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POLITICS

Macron warns France of ‘a new era of sacrifices and the end of abundance’

French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Wednesday that France faced "sacrifices" in a new era marked by the climate crisis and instability caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine that signalled "the end of abundance".

Macron warns France of 'a new era of sacrifices and the end of abundance'
Emmanuel Macron, second from left, addresses his ministers at the first cabinet meeting since the summer break. Photo by MOHAMMED BADRA / POOL / AFP

After a summer marked by drought, massive wildfires and continuing loss of life in Ukraine, the 44-year-old leader delivered a stark speech at the start of the first cabinet meeting after the country’s traditional August holiday break.

“I believe that we are in the process of living through a tipping point or great upheaval.

“Firstly because we are living through… the end of what could seem like the end of abundance.”

Referring to the war in Ukraine, he added: “Our system based on freedom in which we have become used to living, sometimes when we need to defend it, it can entail making sacrifices.”

The speech appeared designed to prepare the country for what promises to be a difficult winter ahead, with energy prices rising sharply and many families struggling with inflation.

It also echoed remarks he made last week during a World War II commemoration event, when he described the tough winter ahead as “the price we pay for freedom”.

The severe drought over the summer, leading to water restrictions across most of the country, has also caused many French people to express fears about the increasingly obvious impact of climate change.

“This overview that I’m giving  — the end of abundance, the end of insouciance, the end of assumptions — it’s ultimately a tipping point that we are going through that can lead our citizens to feel a lot of anxiety,” Macron continued.

“Faced with this, we have duties, the first of which is to speak frankly and very clearly without doom-mongering,” he said.

Macron was re-elected in April to a second term but lost his parliamentary majority in elections in June, meaning Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne heads a minority government that depends on opposition parties to pass legislation.

French inflation was clocked at 6.1 percent last month, one of the lowest rates in Europe thanks to government price caps on electricity and gas, as well as tax cuts on petrol and diesel.

But trade unions are pushing for major wage increases and have called for a day of strikes and rallies on September 29th.

The head of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, told BFM television that the president’s speech was “inappropriate”, adding that the poorest were already paying the price of the war and that further sacrifices could not be expected.

“He’ll ask for them (sacrifices) and we will oppose them,” Martinez said.

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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