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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
Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / 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. 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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INSIDE FRANCE

Inside France: Strikes, Citroëns and Champagne communists

From good news for French bill-payers to the art of surviving strikes, via festivals and the iconic Citroën 2CV, our weekly newsletter Inside France looks at what we have been talking about in France this week.

Inside France: Strikes, Citroëns and Champagne communists

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.

After a surprisingly quiet summer in terms of strike action, French unions are once again causing chaos – this time all over Europe – as air traffic controllers go on strike in a dispute over pay, working conditions and future recruitment.

It’s obviously never fun getting caught up in a strike, especially airline strikes which can ruin important trips and much-anticipated holidays.

However they are a fact of life and I believe that one of the most important skills for life in France is learning how to be philosophical about strikes. Everyone finds their own path to this form of inner peace, but for me it was realising how much of the French social contract – from good public services to workers’ rights – depends on the power of the street to hold governments to account.

Oh, and strike days are also a great time to learn some new French swear-words. 

READ ALSO How to stop worrying and learn to love French strikes

It looks we may all be getting some practice at this soon in a possibly troubled autumn – unions and leftist political parties are already calling for demos later in September over the cost-of-living, and that’s even before Emmanuel Macron introduces his highly controversial bills for reforming both the pension system (again) and the unemployment benefits system.

Things could get lively. 

Bills

Whether because they’re afraid of social unrest or because they’re lovely people, the French government has announced that the cap on energy prices will be extended into 2023, albeit raised to a maximum 15 percent increase.

Bills increasing is never good news, and of course will hit those on low incomes the hardest, but a glance over the Channel at 200 percent increases in electricity bills is enough to make me thank my lucky stars that I live in France.

Champagne communists 

Running since 1930, the Fête de l’Humanité is a pretty big deal in France, attracting around 500,000 people – it raises funds for the Communist newspaper l’Humanité but attracts speakers from across the political left, as well as being a major music festival with dozens of well-known bands appearing over the three days.

But for my money, the best thing about it is that local Communist parties from all over France (and the world in fact) come and set up stands, most of which lure in punters with the food and drink speciality of their regions.

If dancing in a tent with drunk French Communists while sipping €4 glasses of Champagne is your thing, then you will love the Fête de l’Humanité. (And no, ‘Champagne socialist’ is not an insult in France, instead we say gauche caviar).

Podcast

If you like idle chit-chat about France – as well as some serious topics – check out our weekly Talking France podcast.

In the most recent episode we tackle the heavy subjects of assisted dying, plus the problems of the French nuclear industry, before heading to the lighter waters of Dijon mustard, Bordeaux wine and some topical French phrases.

Listen on Spotify, Apple or Google podcasts, download it HERE or listen on the link below.

Photo of the week

This has to be the French photo of the week, for all the reasons explained below

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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