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INSIDE FRANCE

Inside France: Political drama, dodgy French accents and salads 

Always a country keen on drama, there has been plenty going on in France this week , as well as some talking points that you might have missed. Here are the highlights in our new weekend newsletter Inside France.

Inside France: Political drama, dodgy French accents and salads 
It's been a week of political - and other - drama in France. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign up box in this article.

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France has a new government.

This is actually a lot less dramatic than it sounds, it’s what in English we would call a government reshuffle – the newly re-elected Emmanuel Macron has appointed a new Prime Minister (Elisabeth Borne, France’s second ever female PM) she has has announced the new cabinet responsibilities.

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s new government

We’ve seen quite a few familiar faces – Macron loyalists like Sebastian Lécournu promoted to defence minister and Stanislas Guerini becoming Public functions minister – while the Finance, Europe and Interior ministers kept their jobs.

There were also some new additions, with the big surprise being the appointment of historian and minorities specialist Pap Ndiaye as the Education minister, a big change in direction after the famously ‘anti-woke’ Jean-Michel Blanquer.

The Environment ministry is also an interesting one – instead of having a single Environment minister there are now two ministers, in charge of energy policy and the environmental transformation while PM Elisabeth Borne also has environment added to her title. That puts three women each with a reputation for formidable competence – Borne plus Agnès Pannier-Runacher and Amélie de Montchalin – in charge of France’s environmental policy. Only thing is, none of them have any background in environment . . . 

But definitely the highlight of the whole process has been discovering the existence of the non-profit organisation Clowns without Borders, the former employers of new Culture minister Rima Adbul Malak. The jokes pretty much write themselves . . .

Lesser-known citizenship path

The cause of more than one raised eyebrow – certainly among the British community in France – was the news that the British Brexit PM’s dad Stanley Johnson has become a French citizen.

In the interests of fairness, we should probably point out that Johnson père formerly lived in Brussels, worked at the European Commission and Brexit wasn’t his idea (although he does now support it).

While most people wanting French citizenship need either five years of residency or a French spouse, Stanley has used the lesser-known route of ancestry – his mother was French.

But the French rules state that if your parent has been out of France for more than 50 years before you make your claim you need to be able to demonstrate a “clear link” to France, which is apparently what Stanley has done.

The news left a slightly sour taste among people who live, work and pay tax in France who have not been able to secure citizenship for various reasons, particularly children who grew up in France with British parents but then left to go to university abroad, who by a strict reading of the rules are not eligible for citizenship. 

He’s described as being a fluent French speaker – here’s him being interviewed about his new status on the French TV channel BFM, so you can judge for yourselves. 

Scorched earth

The unusually early heatwave that hit France this week has now broken, but it seems to be a sign of things to come as Europe braces itself for an exceptionally hot summer.

Climate change, long dismissed by many as an academic exercise, is really being felt by many in their daily lives in France, with large areas of the country already on drought alert, much earlier than usual.

It’s something that must be top of the to-do list for the newly expanded Environment ministry, but there are already plenty of policies and advice in place to help people cope with heat and drought on a daily-basis from the legal water restrictions in place to the government advice to shut the shutters and eat regular meals (sadly a nice cooling rosé is not officially recommended).

Several of our readers around France have posted photos this week of dry, parched fields and nearly empty rivers. And it’s only May. 

French carnivores

I have vivid memories of sitting down for dinner in south west France with a local girl who informed me “I’m a vegetarian so I’ll have the chicken”.

It’s a cliché but perhaps not an unfair one that France is a pretty carnivorous society, and although things are changing quite rapidly in the big cities it can still be hard for vegans or vegetarians to get appropriate food in restaurants and cafés in rural or small town France.

Our veggie readers had great fun sharing their horror stories of ordering a ‘vegetarian’ salad that arrived draped in bacon, before sharing their practical tips for vegetarian or vegan dining in France.

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign up box in this article.

Member comments

  1. “long dismissed by many as an ‘academic exercise’??? By who? Who does this help? Pretty sure scientsits have been sounding the alarm since the 1960s at least.

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INSIDE FRANCE

Inside France: Macron under pressure, the best French train journeys and cities under construction

From the political crisis to the climate crisis, via a rather grumpy-looking President Emmanuel Macron and the country's best train routes, our weekly newsletter Inside France looks at what we have been talking about in France this week.

Inside France: Macron under pressure, the best French train journeys and cities under construction

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. Members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.

Political crisis

As a foreigner in France it’s not unusual to feel slightly lost when trying to follow the country’s politics – but this week we have been treated to the spectacle of the French also being completely stumped as France enters a political crisis the like of which hasn’t been seen since the 1950s.

The loss of the parliamentary majority for newly re-elected president Emmanuel Macron has plunged the country into deadlock, with a lot of suggestions for how it might be fixed – a Belgium-style coalition, a ‘government of national unity’, more elections – but few certainties.

Reader question: Can Macron dissolve the French parliament?

Macron’s speech to the nation on Wednesday night – unusually brief at just 8 minutes and giving the impression that he was rather grumpy – didn’t really shed any light on the situation.

Most commentators agree that ‘muddling through’ will be the political format for the next few months – primarily it seems to allow everyone to take their summer holidays in July and August. 

The latest Talking France episode has a lot more detail on what happened and what are the options now, as well as expert analysis of the situation from columnist John Lichfield, who told us: “Parliaments without a majority, revolving door governments and prime ministers who lasted a few months was the order of things in the 1940s and 50s, but this generation of politicians simply have no experience of trying to build alliances and coalitions.”

On a personal note, when a little old French lady stopped me in the street on Sunday to ask why the polling station wasn’t open, I was delighted to realised that I actually knew the answer, and was able to explain that our area is one the few places in France that did not have a second round of voting.

The local MP, Alexis Corbière of the hard-left La France Insoumise, received a massive 61 percent in round one – any candidate who gets more than 50 percent in round one is directly re-elected with no need for a second round.

This is the case for all two-round French elections (local, regional, parliamentary and presidential) but it’s quite rare for it to happen at the parliamentary level, while it has never happened in a presidential election. 

Burkini 

France’s highest court ruled this week on what might seem like a surprising topic for them to be troubled with – what women wear to go swimming in Grenoble.

Grenoble enacted three changes to its rules for municipal pools – men can wear swim shorts (most French pools say Speedos only), women can swim topless or can wear the full-body ‘burkini’ swimsuit.

No prizes for guessing which one of those provoked a national row, with the country’s Interior Minister furiously tweeting about secularism and demanding a review of the local ruling.

In the end the Conseil d’Etat ruled that women cannot wear the full-body swimsuit in Grenoble. Going topless is fine though.

While this all sounds extremely ridiculous, the debate is filtered through France’s complex and frequently-misunderstood tradition of laïcité (secularism).

EXPLAINED: What does laïcité really mean in France?

Heatwave

Temperatures across most of France have now dropped back to seasonal norms after the brutal and unusually early heatwave last week, which saw Paris reach 39C and parts of the south west get up to 44C.

But as the climate crisis intensifies this will become the new normal – the long-range forecast for France predicts a hot and dry summer with a high risk of droughts and wildfires.

This is why northern cities like Paris – which were simply not designed to cope with these temperatures – are having to adapt their architecture. Meanwhile on the south coast, Unesco has placed Marseille and Cannes on its risk list for tsunamis within the next 30 years. 

Festival time

On a more cheerful note, France on Tuesday enjoyed its first full Fête de la musique since 2019, with thousands of musicians performing throughout the day in towns and cities around France.

Paris was certainly rocking until the early hours and people took advantage of being able to enjoy the festival without any Covid-related restrictions.

And if you’re planning a trip this summer, definitely check out these videos of the most beautiful train journeys in France, some simply spectacular scenery on view. 

Inside France is our weekly look at some of the news, talking points and gossip in France that you might not have heard about. Members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.

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