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Tires and deep fryers: competitiveness in the 2010's

by Bernard Thu Feb 21st, 2013 at 03:20:39 AM EST

Well, it's official. And it's been doing the headlines all over the French media today (Wed. Feb. 20): French workers are lazy, they only work three hours a day, have a full hour lunch break and they expect American businessmen to take over their ailing tire manufacturing plant. "How stupid do you think we are?" says Maurice Taylor, aka "The Grizz," CEO of Titan International.

Taylor had been approached by Arnaud Montebourg, Minister of Industrial Renewal in the French government, known for his outspoken ways.

U.S. CEO ridicules French workers as time-wasting - CBS News

Taylor, who is nicknamed "The Grizz," wrote the no-holds-barred letter to French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg to explain why his company wouldn't buy part of an ailing Goodyear factory in Amiens. The ministry confirmed the letter as authentic however attempts to obtain comment from Titan have been unsuccessful.

"I have visited the factory a couple of times," the letter date Feb. 8 reads, according to a copy published Wednesday in Les Echos newspaper.

"The French workforce gets paid high wages but only work for three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!"

Tough talking indeed from The Grizz.

U.S. CEO ridicules French workers as time-wasting - CBS News

Titan International plays on the hard reputation of its CEO, who also made an attempt to run for U.S. President in 1996 for the Republicans. The company's website features a biography explaining that the nickname comes from his "tough negotiating style" in Washington as well as a logo and sound of a roaring grizzly bear wearing shades.

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French Parliamentary Elections: a look under the hood

by Bernard Tue May 8th, 2012 at 08:06:50 AM EST

Now that the presidential elections are behind us, the next challenge for the PS and President-elect Hollande are the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for Sunday, June 10 (first round) and June 17 (second round).

It looks like we, the French, love the republic so much that we wanted several of them: France's current political regime is called the Fifth Republic, and was established by de Gaulle in 1958.

It is said that the 1958 constitution was tailor-made for de Gaulle and turned the Fifth Republic into a 'presidential regime', like the United States or Mexico, as opposed to, say, Germany or Italy, where the presidential position is mostly honorific and the real power is with the Federal Chancellor or the Prime Minister.

However, even under the Fifth Republic, the President is still very much dependent on the Parliament: the President appoints the Prime Minister and the cabinet members, but the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament, can overthrow the government by voting a censure motion (it has happened only once, in 1962).

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LQD: 'Germany Was Biggest Debt Transgressor of 20th Century'

by Bernard Fri Nov 25th, 2011 at 03:17:15 AM EST

In keeping with the strong anti-German tradition we have developed on this site (just kidding: I've lived in Germany and even though my German is a bit rusty, I still understand the language somehow), let me quote something I stumbled upon in Der Spiegel.

The current euro clusterfuck debate has been often framed by the German elite as the virtuous and hard working North vs. the lazy and profligate South, starting with Frau Bundeskanzlerin herself. Not to mention the Bild tabloid (the German Daily Fail) crying: "They all want our money!"

The zeal in retrieving money in just every corner sometimes goes a little bit too far and is not always directed at Southern Europe. To wit:

flandersnews.be: German tax on former war labourers' pensions sparks indignation

The German government demands that a tax would be paid on pensions received by foreigners who were compelled to do forced labour during World War II. The news sparks indignation and preoccupation among Belgians enjoying these pensions, either former labourers or their widows.

Needless to say, this didn't go down well at all in Belgium.

Anyway, for the past years, Merkel, Schäuble, Stark: all seem to be pushing the same message: "You must pay your debt, up to the last penny, like all responsible people do".

Not so fast, say some discording voices. Here's a Munich born historian who is taking a critical look at the German government's track record in dealing with its own debt, and he's not exactly mincing his words:

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Reunion Island - a photo blog - Part 2: Volcano blogging

by Bernard Sun Nov 6th, 2011 at 06:44:51 AM EST

The Réunion island really has some impressive scenery and one can understand easily why a large part of its area has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the first part, I've posted pictures of the main three cirques and the piton des Neiges, but we still had to visit the second mountain range: piton de la Fournaise, the active volcano whose last big eruption occurred back in 2007.

We were spending a week-end in a rental house in la Plaine des Cafres, one of the high plains connecting the two main mountain ranges, with family and a couple of friends... Being at 1200m elevation la  Plaine des Cafres is usually a nice resort to escape the heat from the coastal area; but this is spring time and the weather was cold and damp; okay, 'cold' means about 12°C but that's quite cold for the locals. Anyway, it was raining and after a small walk in a nearby forest with plenty of wild flowers, we settled in front of the satellite TV to spend the late Saturday morning watching the French rugby team trouncing England in Eden Park.

After lunch, my brother had a quick discussion with his brother in law: it was still rainy, but it might be possible that the volcano is actually above the clouds. The only way was to drive there and find out for ourselves, so off we went.

Satellite view of the piton de la Fournaise, from NASA (via Wiki). The Dolomieu crater is visible in the middle. On the western side: Plaine des Cafres, Plaine des Sable, Pas de Bellecombe and the caldera rim of Enclos Fouqué. On the eastern side, several lava flows, including the 2007 vintage that wen straight into the ocean.

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Reunion Island - a photo blog (Part 1)

by Bernard Tue Nov 1st, 2011 at 05:49:01 PM EST

Last October, my wife and I visited the island of la Réunion, both for a vacation and a family visit (my brother lives there).
La Réunion is a volcanic island in the Southern Indian Ocean, about 200 km from Mauritius.

While both islands are volcanic in origin, la Réunion is much younger - geologically speaking - than its neighbor Mauritius where the erosion has smoothed the terrain over the ages, allowing for a large coral reef lagoon and white sand beaches to develop. La Réunion on the other end is barely three million years ago, created out of two volcanoes: Piton des Neiges and Piton de la Fournaise (all mountain peaks on the island are called "pitons"). The Piton des Neiges is no longer active and three volcanic calderas around it have collapsed over time, creating the three main cirques in the  middle of the island: Cirque de Salazie, Cirque de Cilaos and Cirque de Mafate. The Piton de la Fournaise is still  very much an active volcano: no eruption while we were there (sadly), but the last one was in December 2010. The two mountain ranges are connected by high plateaus called "plaines": La Plaine des Palmistes and La Plaine des Cafres.

So the terrain on Réunion island is much more rugged than in Mauritius: there are only a few coral lagoons and a limited number of beaches, mostly on the West coast (also called "côte sous le vent" - leeward coast), such as Boucan Canot or Saint Gilles. Actually, the most spectacular features of La Réunion are inland: in 2010, the "pitons, cirques and remparts (cliffs)" have been officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors and natives alike are hiking the mountain trails, and Sunday family picnics up in "les hauts" (the heights) are a strongly rooted tradition.

Satellite view of Réunion island, from NASA (via Wiki). More pictures to follow below the fold...

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LQD: Of Election Campaign Football and Golden Rule

by Bernard Sun Aug 21st, 2011 at 05:17:26 AM EST

You read ET, so you know that "France's AAA rating has become the subject of French Presidential Election Campaign Football" (h/t Migeru). In addition, president Nicolas Sarkozy and prime minister François Fillon have devised another issue:  modify the French constitution to make budget deficits illegal, following in Germany's footsteps. This so-called "règle d'or" -- "Golden Rule", is predictably enough used by the UMP (Sarkozy's party) as a weapon to beat the French Socialist with in the run-up to the next presidential elections in May 2012: either the PS accept this "Golden Rule" and get in full TINA mode onto the austerity bandwagon or they reject the poisonous gift and will be immediately tarred as "irresponsible". Heads the UMP wins, tails the PS loses.

Sarkozy's camp is hoping for a repeat of the 2007 presidential race when they successfully portrayed Ségolène Royal as "incompetent" with the help of compliant media while Sarkozy was looking "presidential"; of course, this was before Le Fouquet's, "Casse-toi, pauvre con" and other fixtures of the bling-bling era supposedly long gone by now.

In the wake of last weekend's "no-business meeting" between Sarkozy and Merkel, long on the hand waving but short on any concrete action, Sarkozy's prime minister François Fillon, who just came back from his Tuscan summer vacation, published an editorial in Le Figaro (August 19), a broadsheet who is to the UMP what Fox News is to the GOP. In this editorial, Fillon is calling for no less than national unity behind the golden rule:

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Colossal blunder: Sarkozy style diplomacy in Tunisia

by Bernard Sun Feb 20th, 2011 at 02:14:37 PM EST

One thing that struck me with the Wikileaks cables, is the overall good quality of the analysis -- regardless what you think of their orientation --  showing in general a high level of professionalism among the US diplomatic corps.

There was a time when the French diplomats too were reputed for the quality of their work and the networks they were setting all over the globe. However in recent years, career diplomats are increasingly being replaced with yes-men or people who have no higher qualification than being close to the French president and his ruling party.

Case in point: Remember the colossal blunder of previous French ambassador in Tunisia, Pierre Ménat?

At the height of the "jasmine revolution", on Friday January 13, Ambassador Ménat famously sent a diplomatic cable to Paris, stating that Ben Ali had "retaken the situation in hand".

A mere couple of hours later Ben Ali and his clan were fleeing to Saudi Arabia...

Sarkozy was unsurprisingly angry after Ménat who was recalled a few days later.

After such a gaffe, you'd think President Sarkozy would be careful in replacing him with an experienced diplomat who would spare no efforts to continue good relations with Tunisia and generally behave, well, diplomatic.

You'd be wrong.

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Burqa, a progressive framing

by Bernard Wed Jun 24th, 2009 at 09:56:14 AM EST

I haven't had the time to chime in on the subject (and join in the fun?), but I'm in an off-site meeting this afternoon and not all subjects covered there are equally interesting :)

It all started a couple of weeks ago when a couple of lawmakers decided to start a workgroup on the burqa wearing in France; it was supposed to be just a study group, with right wing as well as left wing lawmakers, united by the traditional French secularism ("laïcité").

Until the President, N.Sarkozy, decided this was to good a wedge issue to be left to the Parliament, that is.

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Nicolas Sarkozy and the Great 2010 Tax Swindle

by Bernard Mon Feb 9th, 2009 at 07:03:48 AM EST

Last Thursday night, our fearless president invited himself on three -- count them, three -- national TV channels for one hour and a half prime time interview by four journalists from these three most widely viewed TV channels: France 2, the public channel whose top boss will be now directly appointed by Sarkozy himself  (a recently voted law), TF1 and M6, whose owners, Martin Bouygues and Vincent Bolloré, happen to be Saroky's BFF, just like pretty much everyone who counts in the clubby world of French capitalism.

Satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchainé, wrote this snarky headline: "Sarkozy had sworn: No commercials after 8 PM". Rules just apply to the common men, I guess.

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