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Archive for the ‘Land of the French Oppression’ Category

Macron says 3 candidates for top EU job have been ruled out

June 21, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron declared Friday that three top candidates to become head of the European Union’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, have been ruled out of the race by the bloc’s leaders, but other leaders weren’t so sure.

Speaking after a summit with his EU counterparts in Brussels, Macron told reporters that “the point was made that it is impossible for these three candidates to be retained.” Center-right lead candidate Manfred Weber from Germany, center-left pick Dutchman Frans Timmermans and liberal choice Margrethe Vestager of Demark were considered most likely to be named to run the commission, the job currently led by Jean-Claude Juncker.

The three were backed by the European Parliament, but Macron opposes the system that made them favorites and wants someone else at the commission, which proposes EU laws and enforces them, for the next five years. Macron said talks have been launched “so that other names emerge.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, however, said the three should still be up for consideration. “I think it would be strange to assume that among 500 million Europeans who can become commission president, there would be three who cannot get that job. That is crazy,” Rutte said.

EU leaders failed overnight to narrow down candidates for the EU’s top jobs and will hold a new summit in Brussels on June 30 to finalize the nominations.

Macron in Kenya, 1st French leader there since independence

March 13, 2019

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Kenya today in the first visit by a French leader since the East African nation’s independence in 1963. This is the latest stop in Macron’s Africa tour, followed by Ethiopia and Djibouti, focusing on investment and security in a region of increasing strategic importance.

The French leader is attending a U.N. environmental meeting and One Planet Summit in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta. Macron’s office says that Kenya is the only African nation to reach the goal of making renewable energy 75 percent of its energy mix.

The office also notes the ongoing threat to Kenya from extremism. Al-Shabab is in neighboring Somalia. French business leaders are also traveling with Macron. Kenya is East Africa’s commercial hub.

France keeps up pressure on Italy in historic EU dispute

February 08, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s pro-EU government and Italy’s populist leaders sparred anew Friday, as business giants from both countries appealed for calm amid the neighbors’ biggest diplomatic spat since World War II.

France said the stunning recall of its ambassador to Italy was a temporary move — but an important signal to its historical ally not to meddle in internal French affairs. In Italy, the deputy prime minister who’s the focus of French anger stood his ground, renewing criticism of France’s foreign policy.

France and Italy are founding members of the European Union, born from the ashes of World War II, and their unusual dispute is rippling around the continent at a time of growing tensions between nationalist and pro-EU forces.

French officials said Friday that this week’s recall of French Ambassador Christian Masset was prompted by months of “unfounded attacks” from Italian government members Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, who have criticized French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic and migration policies.

But the main trigger for the crisis appeared to be Di Maio’s meeting in a Paris suburb this week with members of the yellow vests, a French anti-government movement seeking seats in the European Parliament.

French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the visit violated “the most elementary diplomacy” because it was unannounced. Referring to Italy’s populist leaders, he criticized a “nationalist leprosy” eating away at Europe’s unity and said EU members should “behave better toward partners.”

A participant in the meeting, French activist Marc Doyer, told The Associated Press that it was initiated by Di Maio’s populist 5-Star movement and aimed at sharing advice on how to build a “citizens’ movement.”

Doyer said it provided useful technical and other guidance to potential yellow vest candidates and their supporters, and called the diplomat spat an overreaction. “It’s a political game by certain people,” he said. “Free movement exists in Europe, and the meeting didn’t cost the French taxpayer anything.”

Di Maio said he had done nothing wrong by meeting with the yellow vest protesters without informing the French government. A borderless Europe “shouldn’t just be about allowing free circulation of merchandise and people, but also the free circulation of political forces that have a European outlook,” he said in a Facebook video while visiting Abruzzo.

Di Maio again blamed France for policies in African countries that he said had impeded their growth and fueled the flight of economic migrants to Europe. He also implicitly blamed Paris for the chaos in Libya that has led to years of instability and growth of migrant smuggling networks following France’s involvement in the NATO-led operation in 2011 that ousted former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from power.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, meanwhile, offered France’s yellow vest movement technical advice on launching a version of the 5-Star movement’s online portal, which allows registered party members to vote on policy decisions and candidates.

“If useful, we can offer them a hand and do political activities in service of the French people,” Toninelli said, according to the ANSA news agency. As the diplomatic spat simmered, a French yellow vest activist known for his extremist views held a gathering Friday in the Italian city of Sanremo.

The standoff was clearly sending jitters through Europe’s business world, given that the two countries are top trading partners and powerhouses of the EU economy. A pressing concern in Italy is the future of struggling national carrier Alitalia, amid rumored interest by Air France in some form of partnership.

Italian opposition leaders seized on a report Friday in business daily Il Sole 24 Ore that the French carrier had cooled on a deal as a result of the standoff. Di Maio, who is also Italy’s economic development minister, pushed back.

“I’ve been following the Alitalia dossier for months. Air France’s enthusiasm hasn’t cooled now,” he said. The Italian business lobby Confindustria and its French counterpart Medef wrote to their respective leaders calling for “constructive dialogue” to resolve the dispute, which they warned could threaten Europe’s global standing.

“It’s necessary that the two historic protagonists of the process of integration don’t split, but reconfirm their elements of unity,” the presidents of the two groups wrote Macron and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte. “Europe is an economic giant and we have to work to make it become a political giant as well.”

The two business leaders — Vincenzo Boccia of Confindustria and Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux of Medef — confirmed plans for a joint meeting later this month in Paris. French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told the AP that the ambassador recall “is an unprecedented gesture toward a European state that is aimed at making clear that there are things that are not done between neighboring countries, friends and partners within the European Union.”

Winfield reported from Rome.

Political ambitions reveal cracks in yellow vest movement

February 08, 2019

PARIS (AP) — Having brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets over the past three months in protest at French President Emmanuel Macron’s politics, yellow vest activists now want to build on their street cred to achieve electoral success.

But the movement, named after the fluorescent garments French motorists must carry, is divided: it has no appointed leader, gathers people from across the political spectrum and has an array of demands.

With the next elections to the European Parliament set for the end of May, no fewer than four groups from the grassroots movement could submit lists of candidates for the ballot. Some media-savvy yellow vest figures also are tempted to run under the mantle of traditional political parties trying to take advantage of their popularity.

No wonder unity seems impossible to achieve within a movement featuring multiple political currents and fighting for a multitude of demands, ranging from the reintroduction of France’s wealth tax on the country’s richest people to the implementation of popular votes allowing citizens to propose new laws.

In any case, the prospect of yellow vest lists has triggered criticism from inside their own ranks, revealing cracks in the burgeoning movement. Despite recent opinion polls suggesting that a yellow vest list could garner as much as 13 percent of the votes at the May 26 election, and inflict serious damage to both far-right and far-left parties, many protesters have warned against the idea of entering the political fray.

“A yellow vest list is a serious mistake,” Francois Boulo, a popular figure of the movement in western France, told The Associated Press this week. “The European Parliament has no power to improve people’s life while yellow vests want to get immediate and concrete improvements. Besides, yellow vest lists will weaken opposition parties in the election and automatically reinforce the ruling party.”

Among the groups of yellow vests planning to field candidates, the Citizens’ Initiative Rally is expected to be led by a 31-year-old care worker, Ingrid Levavasseur. “To me it’s obvious, we need to seize the electoral sphere,” Levavasseur said. “It’s just the first step. Next will be the local elections. It’s time for us to build something. Some yellow vests are really angry, but many others have said they want to join the list.”

According to Frederic Mestdjian, who works closely with Levavasseur, about 100 people have already expressed the desire to join their list. “We are open to dialogue and want to achieve unity,” he told the AP. “People start to realize that traditional parties don’t answer their expectations. Having a list has become an absolute necessity.”

However, another figure of the movement has criticized Levavasseur’s choice to run for candidate. Benjamin Cauchy is accusing her of lacking a clear political vision and is worried the characteristics of the cross-party movement could be lost if yellow vest lists are entered.

Cauchy, who has sympathies for the right wing, said he has been offered places on lists set up by traditional parties, including The Republicans and the far-right National Rally movement. Levavasseur said her list is apolitical, although some of her supporters have met with Italy’s deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio this week. Seeking foreign allies ahead of the elections, the Five Star leader boasted on Twitter after the meeting that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.” Di Maio said last month his populist movement was ready to help yellow vest protesters. The French government has condemned what it sees as foreign interference in domestic politics, and on Wednesday recalled its ambassador to Italy.

The others expected to front lists, if they manage to gather enough candidates, are singer Francis Lalanne; Patrick Cribouw, a former commercial director; and Thierry Paul Valette, who founded a movement called National Equality that focuses on combating corruption and holding lawmakers to account.

Like Levavasseur, Valette has found himself on the receiving end of sharp criticism since he announced his bid. Last week, he was beaten up by yellow vest protesters who tried to make him leave a demonstration.

“They kicked me in the back but it’s not my style to cave in to intimidation,” he said during a phone interview. “Being a yellow vest does not mean rejecting institutions. Some people disagree with my list. I want to speak with them and make them understand the movement should evolve. One can’t fight for more democracy and reject politics at the same time. The adventure has only just begun, it’s not finished.”

France recalls ambassador to Italy after yellow vest meeting

February 07, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France recalled its ambassador to Italy on Thursday amid rising tensions after Italy’s deputy prime minister met with French anti-government protesters and Italian leaders made critical public comments about French President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said the ambassador was being brought back for “consultations” and urged Italy in a statement to work to restore friendly relations worthy of “our common destiny.”

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio met with supporters of France’s yellow vest protest movement running as candidates for the European Parliament. Di Maio has said the populist 5-Star Movement he leads was ready to help the French protesters and has accused France of fueling Europe’s immigration difficulties.

That came after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called Macron “a terrible president” in January. He said he hoped French voters would send Macron a message during the European elections by showing their support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with whom Salvini is allied in European politics.

Von der Muhll called the incidents an “unacceptable” interference in French democracy, and said they were unprecedented since the two neighbors joined together after World War II to help create the European Union.

“The campaign for the European elections cannot justify the lack of respect for each people or for their democracy,” she said. “For several months, France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outrageous declarations,” she added. “To have disagreements is one thing, to exploit the relationship for electoral purposes is another.”

Italy’s foreign minister, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, sought to tamp down the dispute, stressing the “profound friendship” between the two allies. But he acknowledged that differences were coming to the fore ahead of May’s European Parliament elections.

“The defense of each one’s interests and points of view, as well as the political debate ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections, cannot influence on the solid relations that have united us for decades,” Milanesi said in a statement.

In response to France’s move, Salvini said he was open to meeting with Macron and the French government, but insisted that France must stop sending back migrants at the border and stop penalizing Italian workers in France.

“We don’t want to fight with anyone. We are not interested in polemics. We are concrete people and we defend the interests of Italians,” he said. Di Maio had already sparked annoyance in January when he accused France of leading colonial-style policies in Africa, prompting the French Foreign Ministry to summon the Italian ambassador. And the Italian government last fall accused France of dumping underage migrants over the border without authorization.

After meeting with members of the Citizens’ Initiative Rally group of yellow vests on Tuesday, Di Maio boasted on Twitter that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.”

Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

Macron claws back support amid focus on yellow vest movement

February 06, 2019

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron appears to be clawing back support as he tries to quell the yellow vest protest movement with a national political debate. Recent polls by Ifop, BVA and Harris Interactive institutes show Macron’s approval ratings rising — from 23 to 31 percent in December to 31 to 35 percent.

But Macron knows the rebound could be fragile, saying recently he feels like he’s “walking on ice.” Macron’s popularity reached its lowest level after the anti-government, yellow vest protests broke out in November —with many demonstrators calling for his resignation. The protests reached their peak in early December when the French capital was scene to rioting, shops and museums closed and graffiti was sprayed over the Arc de Triomphe monument.

The fear of further violence became so acute that Macron’s wife, Brigitte Macron, and some presidential aides visited the nuclear-proof bunker, the location of which remains secret, French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche recently revealed in a report called “the ten days when Emmanuel Macron trembled.”

Macron has since announced a package of measures worth about 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) to boost workers’ and retirees’ purchasing power and launched a “grand debate” to let ordinary French people express their views on the country’s economic and democratic issues.

“These were first steps that enabled some people to be a bit less opposed to Macron, even if there was no enthusiasm about the measures,” said Edouard Lecerf, deputy general director of the BVA polling institute.

The three-month nationwide consultation launched in mid-January involves a series of meetings organized by citizens, groups and elected officials as well as an internet website where people can air their grievances.

Over the last three weeks, Macron has travelled across France to take part in several debates. Rolling-up his shirt sleeves, standing in the middle of crowds of hundreds, he repeatedly answered dozens of questions for six to seven straight hours, often broadcast live on French news channels.

Lecerf noted that “the grand debate now takes almost as much place as the yellow vests in the French media.” He said Macron’s move aims at showing political “courage and authority” and to provide a reminder of his first six months in power in 2017.

Frederic Dabi, deputy director general of Ifop, said the combination of emergency measures and the grand debate “give the impression that he’s back in the game, and in the context of protests he appears as a protection against instability.”

Macron is also meeting this week with France’s main party, including Wednesday with far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and head of far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen. The French leader promised the grand debate outcomes will influence his domestic and European policies. But he insisted planned reforms, including an overhaul of the indebted pension system and of France’s relatively generous unemployment benefits, are maintained.

During a debate in Bourg de Peage, a small town in southeastern France, a man wearing a yellow jacket asked Macron to call new parliamentary elections. He refused, saying he “has been elected by the people.”

He also insisted he won’t re-establish the wealth tax —one of the main demands of the yellow vests. “Two years ago with the wealth tax, did we live better? Were there less homeless people? No”, he said.

Pollsters stressed that the rebound in Macron’s ratings remains fragile and that overall, the French leader is still very unpopular and widely perceived as arrogant. Macron has been dubbed “president of the rich” because his pro-business policies are perceived as favoring the rich.

“Just a little thing could make the ice too fragile and Macron would fall down,” Lecerf said.

French yellow vest protesters back on the streets

February 02, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest protesters are taking to the streets to keep pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron’s government, for the 12th straight weekend of demonstrations. Multiple protests are planned Saturday in Paris and other cities to denounce Macron’s economic policies, seen by critics as favoring the rich.

This week, demonstrators in the French capital are planning to pay tribute to the yellow vests injured during clashes with police. The government says around 2,000 people have been injured in protests since the movement began Nov. 17, including at least four serious eye injuries. Separately, 10 people have died in road incidents related to yellow vest actions.

France’s Council of State has ruled Friday that security forces have a right to use controversial high-velocity rubber ball launchers for crowd control.

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