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February 27, 2005 - Expensive Lives

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From Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis  -

Received Friday 2/25/2005 10:25 AM Pacific Time


Finance Fumble



PARIS: - It started a couple of weeks ago when the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé remarked that the Minister of the Economy, Finance, Budget, etc. - all one minister - was about to move into a vast apartment, a duplex near the Champs-Elysées, and it was going to cost the taxpayers 14,000 euros a month.


That French taxpayers pay to house government ministers is not news.  That rents are high in Paris is not news to anybody paying 1000 a month for a recycled broom closet.  In fact once we learned that the minister has eight kids, who knows?  Maybe 14,000 a month is cheap.


So a week of medium media highlife goes by, and the minister allows that if he were properly bourgeois, he'd own his apartment.  This was the fatal slip of the ministerial mouth because that sneaky quacking duck of a weekly then let us know that the minister indeed does own an apartment in Paris - in the seventh arrondissement near nice schools, with a whole 200 square metres for all those kids.


Nothing of course, everybody assumes, to compare with the 600 square metre ministerial duplex, but his property is bringing him 2300 euros a month in rent.  Very slowly a heavy penny began to drop.


This minister, looking after the whole country's finances, is maybe a little uncertain about his own - and ours.  It's true that he needs an apartment and a big one at that, because his own apartment is tied up in a lease until the coming summer.  This raises the question of where he's been living with eight kids if not in his own apartment.


Leave that for next week.  He told the property agent he needed 10 rooms - the majority of Parisians have to get by with studios, or one or two bedrooms - but she had to go out of the 7th to find two apartments totaling 10 rooms.  All they needed were interior stairs to make one duplex.  The extra kitchen was converted into a gym for Madame.  Then three parking places were found in the adjoining building, and with a bit of fixing up these were added to the lot.


Fixing-up the apartments cost the taxpayers 31,833 euros, plus an extra 10,000 for the kitchen-into-gym.  Fixing-up the garage cost us 15,000 euros.  The monthly charges for utilities, elevator and garbage, is 1,654 euros and the rent for the parking is 843 euros.  Finally, the rent itself is 14,140 euros.  The agent's fee of 12,107 euros hasn't been paid yet.


Today, according to Libération, the minister, who wasn't bourgeois enough to own his own apartment, does own a house in Brittany and has some claim to a family estate in Savoie - plus, you remember, the 'bourgeois' apartment in the 7th, near the good schools.


The papers say the minister is a good Joe, an unassuming fellow from the country.  They have begun to mention that he pays extra taxes because of his personal fortune, but they haven't yet found out where it came from.  Not, we assume, from his pop's shoe shop.


So far, except for a few mis-statements, there's nothing illegal here anywhere.  When Nicolas Sarkozy was running the same ministry, he had a state apartment in the Bercy finance HQ - as big as a medium mall if I recall correctly.


In fact the minister's only real fault, in the eyes of the Sarkozy clique, is that he is a supporter of the president, Jacques Chirac.  Before this fumble some Chiracians were even calling him Chirac-bis.


Today's Le Parisien says this affair is not making Sarkozy unhappy.  On a tour of his future dominions yesterday, he did whine a bit that the journalists were making it hard for him, only asking questions about his successor.  He recalled 'media attacks' when he filled up the Bercy apartment with plasma screens.


And Madame, who was to be surprised by Monsieur le Ministre, with a spiffy private gym - Madame is a sitting judge on the watchdog unit that oversees the public accounts.


Tonight we are supposed to expect to see and hear the minister on TF1's national TV-news explaining himself.  No matter what, when the fan is flinging merde all over the place, a little sincere confession is supposed to sooth all bobos.


Serial killers are supposed to explain their acts.  Politicians, facing mountains of evidence and dozens of witnesses, are supposed to explain their acts.  The only person officially exonerated from explaining everything and anything, is France's president.


All the rest of us are guilty by default, but if we have a good excuse we may escape condemnation, depending on the good humor of the state.  Grace is not God's to give, but the president's.


He is also the only one in France allowed to live in a palace.  The Elysées Palace.


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23 February 2005 - snow in Paris

Received Friday 2/25/2005 2:44 PM Pacific Time


The Hot Seat



PARIS - Friday, 24 February - If Hervé Gaymard showed in on the TF1 TV-news tonight he probably declined to explain anything about his lodgings.  This afternoon he went along to his boss's place at the Hôtel Matignon and handed in his resignation.  This left the news shows up in the air tonight until the word was passed that Thierry Breton agreed to accept the portfolio of the ministry of the Economy and Finance.


Characterized as the 'portfolio without pity' on France-2 TV-news, Mr. Breton comes to the hot seat at Bercy from the top spot at France Télécom, following stints at Bull and Thompson Multimedia.  He is also said to be a friend of the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and of the Président, Jacques Chirac.


Viewers were reminded of some of the recent history at the Economy and Finance ministry.  Within the past 10 years Hervé Gaymard now holds the absolute record for briefest service in the slot.  Of the last ten ministers, five others governed for very short periods.


At just over two years, Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn functioned as minister the longest.  He left office to defend himself from charges, which were eventually dismissed.


Thierry Breton has been seeing France Télécom through the difficult period of transition from state telephone monopoly to private company.  The company has had to open itself to competition.  This is usually done by selling its line services at a discount to other operators, who in turn offer the services to customers.


Many France Télécom subscribers object to paying non-discounted rates by signing up with the competitors, while those who stubbornly stick with the 'historic supplier' subsidize the 'privatization.'


Tonight it is uncertain whether the same tactics will be carried over to the Economy and Finance ministry.  For example, France could sell discount state services to Spaniards and Germans, while French taxpayers pay the full shot, plus have to pay for a place in line at the tax collector's office.


Meanwhile, a Strike of the Week


As of tonight the general transport strike scheduled for Thursday, 10 March is still highly likely.  Unions, and all of them are upset, have been asked to pick another day.  The International Olympic Committee is slated to visit Paris on 10 March to access the city's ability to host the games.


The usual people are saying the usual things, about how the unions should be forced to provide 'minimum service.'  These are the same people who never use public transport so they can't be expected to know that strikes are never total - in a serious strike there's always one train or bus out of three or four running.  Somewhat like 'minimum service.'


Besides, the Olympic games are always held in the summer when there are no strikes because of holidays.  In principle there should be nothing to worry about.  What other city would have the chutzpah to stage a transport strike when the Olympic snoops are around?  It'll show them that Paris keeps on truckin' no matter what.



Back To Regular Program


A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister, who isn't everybody's darling, stated on TV-news that unemployment would fall 'significantly' within months.


Somebody, we are supposed to believe, possibly in the ministry of the Economy and Finance, thinks that France is poised for a burst of prosperity.


The Prime Minister's score in the popularity polls isn't outstanding and there's always talk about how his days are numbered, but six months later he's still here, with even lower poll results.


It must have been sobering tonight to learn that unemployment has nudged itself above the 10 percent level again, the first time it's been this high since 2000.  Never mind that it has been above nine percent since 1995, or 1991, or whenever that crash back then was.


But the TV-news didn't dwell on this.  The Pope is back in the hospital again and in this old Europe this is major news.  The news ran on-the spot reports from Italy, from Rome, from Poland and from France, with just about everybody saying they hoped the Pope would get better real soon, while expressing doubt that he will be able to talk.


As yet there are no reports about the jockeying for position that goes on when a Pope is on the way out.  Popes are like other people, they get old and die too.  Who are the new stars of the mother church?  Will it be Italy's turn next?  Or will the church turn to new worlds?  People get excited when the United States has an election, but believe me, the Pope has a lot more voters - although few of them can vote.



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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