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POLITICS

Meet the woman aiming to become France’s first municipal councillor with Down Syndrome

When the mayor of Arras, a town in northern France, asked her to stand as a candidate in upcoming municipal elections, Eleonore Laloux, who has Down Syndrome, did not hesitate.

Meet the woman aiming to become France's first municipal councillor with Down Syndrome
Eleonore Laloux with her election campaign literature. Photo: AFP

“I would like Arras to change, for there to be improvements… mainly with regard to cleanliness and respect, but also accessibility” for disabled people, the 34-year-old administrative agent and activist told AFP.

“I am ready to make this change happen,” Laloux said at her apartment in the city centre, its walls dotted with photos of her posing with TV personalities.

If her campaign succeeds, she will become the country's first serving municipal councillor with Down Syndrome.

READ ALSO What you need to know about France's (very complicated) municipal elections

Laloux, who lives alone, is fond of fashion and movies, and loves strumming her electric guitar.

She speaks with some difficulty but moves around with seeming ease. Big rings adorn her well-manicured hands, and trendy, multicoloured glasses frame her face.

For years, Laloux has fought for people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities to be able to live happier and more productive lives as fully integrated members of society.

“If I were to see Emmanuel Macron, I would tell him: 'I have something to say to you – I would like us to talk a bit more about people with disabilities and above all about their inclusion',” she said of the French president.

This month, Sophie Cluzel, deputy minister in charge of disabilities, urged political parties “to make place for disabled people” on their candidates' lists for local elections starting March 15.

Laloux is standing for the centrist “Arras pour Vous” (Arras for You) party of Mayor Frederic Leturque, who said “her courage and her perspective” would make a big difference to how the town is run.

“She will be a councillor like no other, but she will be a councillor in her own right,” he wrote on Facebook recently.

'I know what I want' 

“I am neither on the right nor the left, I am in the centre,” Laloux told AFP of her political leanings.

Her priorities are not ideological as much as personal: Laloux says she wants to “make perspectives change” about disabled people, and “improve accessibility” for them.

“This is a project close to my heart,” the candidate told AFP of her foray into the cutthroat world of electoral politics.

“The mayor trusts me because he knows I am a determined young woman who loves life. I know what I want, I have a crazy temperament but I am happy that Frederic accepts me as I am,” she said

Laloux already has an impressive resume, having worked for 14 years as an administrative agent at a private hospital.

On top of her day job, she is involved with the Down Up association in her home town, as well as the “Amis d'Eleonore” (The Friends of Eleonore) collective created by her parents, dedicated to helping people with mental disabilities.

In 2014, she published a book entitled “Triso et allors!” (Down Syndrome and So What!) about the obstacles she has had to overcome.

Laloux has fought long and hard to live a “normal” life, refusing to be defined by her disabilities.

She went to a regular school, and left her parents' home eight years ago to live on her own.

“I do a bit of cooking, I check my emails… I like to feel resourceful,” she said.

In her free time she likes putting on a DVD or listening to Bob Dylan, Blur and Radiohead.

'Born different' 

“We have always wanted for Eleonore, who was born different, to be able to live like anyone else,” her father Emmanuel Laloux, 66, told AFP.

“When you view a person through the prism of their inabilities… they will behave like a disabled person. But if you view them for their abilities, they can grow,” he said.

Emmanuel Laloux said he backed his daughter's political ambitions on the proviso that her colleagues “truly take into account her needs in terms of intellectual accessibility”.

Leturque said special provisions would be made for Laloux, who he said would be “accompanied” in her duties by Sylvie Noclercq, Arras' councillor for health and disability issues.

Macron hosted a national conference on disabilities this month, announcing that 15,000 assistants would be hired in the next two years to help disabled children go to school.

According to government statistics, some 2.7 million people – out of a French population of almost 67 million – suffer a disability that results in some form of physical limitation.

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POLITICS

Macron faces strike as French unions flex muscles

French schools, trains and businesses are set to be affected on Thursday by the first major strike called since the re-election of President Emmanuel Macron in April, as unions push for wage hikes and the end of planned pension reform.

Macron faces strike as French unions flex muscles

The extent of disruption remains uncertain, however, with the strike a test for the CGT union behind the protests, which is seeking to build support for a lengthy battle with the centrist government.

Macron has approved wage hikes for civil servants and teachers and put in place one of Europe’s most generous anti-inflation safety nets that has capped energy prices for households and held down inflation.

But his insistence on raising the retirement age from its current level of 62 — one of his main re-election campaign pledges — has stirred up unions and other left-wing opponents and remains broadly unpopular around the country.

“We are against pushing back the age of retirement because we consider it an aberration when there are so many unemployed people in this country,”

Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, told the BFM broadcaster on Tuesday.

“Keeping people with work in their work means that people who haven’t got any can’t find it,” he added.

Despite warnings from allies about the risk of failure, Macron has tasked his government with hiking the retirement age from the current age of 62, one of the lowest in Europe, with changes set to take effect next year.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, the former investment banker has argued that pushing back pensions and getting more people into jobs are the only ways the state can raise revenue without increasing taxes.

His centrist party lost its majority in parliament in June, severely undermining his ability to push through changes.

Macron’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne nevertheless told AFP Thursday that the government would not seek to tack on the pension reform to a wider social security budget law as initially planned.

“There are important questions we want to open talks about” with other political parties, unions and employers’ groups, Borne said.

“We’re starting from the assumption that we’ll be able to hold a dialogue,” she added — although parts of the opposition completely reject any changes.

“If the president insists on declaring a social war on the people, we will respond with all the means at our disposal,” the parliamentary leader of the France Unbowed (LFI) political party, Mathilde Panot, tweeted on Wednesday.

Stoppages

Thursday’s strike has been called by the CGT, France’s second-biggest union, with backing from smaller partners Solidaires and FSU.

The influential CFDT and hard-left FO unions have declined to take part, underlining splits in the country’s once formidable labour movement which has struggled to stop Macron’s economic and social security reforms since he came to power in 2017.

Around one in 10 schools in Paris are expected to shut for the day on Thursday, while 300 will close in the southern Bouches-du Rhone area which includes Marseille.

“We can really see that teachers are fed up with their salaries… if on top of that, there’s the issue of pensions, it risks creating  some sparks,” said Guislaine David from the Snuipp-FSU union.

SNCF railways and the RATP metro system in Paris are also bracing for disruption to services, while employees of oil and gas giant TotalEnergies have been on strike since Tuesday.

Despite anger over the soaring cost of living, Macron is in a hurry to push through pension reform, which he first promised in 2017 before pausing in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to work for longer, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they are not going to work for longer,” a minister close to the president told AFP last week on condition of anonymity.

“Maybe I’m mistaken, but I’m not sure that the turnout will be as large as the unions and LFI are hoping for,” the minister said.

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