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The French-American Foundation Weekly Brief
February 18, 2011
Finance ministers and heads of central banks from Group-of-20 nations meet in Paris on Friday, February 18, as negotiations under the French presidency of the G20 will continue to seek increased global financial governance, Les Echos reported. At the Seoul summit in 2010, also strewn with disagreement, G20 members mandated that France lead the group to determine “indicative guidelines” for assessing global financial imbalances. Among the most noticeable signs of imbalance are China’s sizeable trade surplus and Germany’s dominance of European exports, according to Reuters. As disaccord has persisted over which indicators should be used to assess global imbalances, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday, February 14, that it would not be too dramatic if the G20 did not determine those indicators, conceding that France’s ambitious hopes for reform may have to be sized down. The same day, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said that if indicators cannot be agreed upon, then the next step for the G20 would be to determine numeric limits. As China and emerging economies boom amid economic struggle for many established members of the G20, the discussion promises to be politically fragile. While China has expressed concern over the inclusion of exchange rates in the list of indicators, the nation has been criticized heavily for its policy maintaining an artificially low value for its currency, the renminbi, as explored by the New York Times. Adding to the already highly disputed topic, the International Monetary Fund warned this week against increasing risk to the global economy posed by rising food prices and many nation’s inability to control public finances, calling on the United States to lower the high value of the dollar and on Europe to get its finances in order, according to the Nouvel Observateur.
French Budget Minister François Baroin reaffirmed on Wednesday, February 16, that the administration still intended to reform France’s fiscal policy before the upcoming presidential elections in 2012, Les Echos reported. As parliamentarians and ministers discuss various reforms to be included in the overhaul, the discussion has centered on several notable tax policies, notably a wealth tax facing a probable cancellation and also a tax shield, which establishes that nobody can pay more than 50 percent of their income in taxes, which also could be scrapped, according to Reuters. Both President Nicolas Sarkozy and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde have stated this week that these scenarios are hypothetical and that the discussion is entirely open. Sarkozy did assert on Wednesday, February 16, that the fiscal reform was not a “réformette” but a major overhaul of France’s fiscal policy, Le Point reported.
Before the National Assembly on Wednesday, February 16, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux reaffirmed France’s tough stance on immigration laws after thousands of Tunisians have made their way into Europe following the ousting of ex-President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, AFP reported. The European Union has estimated that throughout the past weeks, about 5,500 Tunisians arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to Reuters. The island, closer to Tunisia than Italy, is believed to be a gateway to France, the European nation with the closest historic ties to Tunisia. Tunisians illegally entering Europe have already been arrested throughout the south of France. In the first half of February, 88 illegal immigrants were arrested in the coastal department of Alpes-Maritimes along the Italian border, France Soir reported. The debate over whether France and Europe is to serve as a land of asylum for those leaving countries left in uncertainty by protests throughout the Middle East, most notably Tunisia and Egypt, has pinned France’s hard stance on clandestine immigration against its tradition as a promoter of human rights and safe place for those seeking refuge, as explored by Les Echos. The fact that the new waves of immigrants come from Muslim countries has also perpetuated the ongoing debate between the role of Islam in Europe and France’s promotion of multicultural society.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry withdrew on Monday, February 14, from a set of events organized as part of a “Year of Mexico” celebration planned in France, RFI reported. The withdrawal came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy dedicated the joint cultural celebrations earlier in the day to Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman currently serving a 60-year prison sentence in Mexico City. Cassez was arrested on December 8, 2005, at a ranch, where she lived with her boyfriend. On the ranch were found three people, including a small boy, who were being held hostage, according to the New York Times. Both Cassez and her boyfriend, Mexican Israel Vallarta who later confessed to the kidnappings, have insisted that Cassez knew nothing of the hostage situation. France has since claimed that the investigation into the case by Mexican authorities was flawed and has insisted that Cassez be extradited to France. Paris has once again brought up the issue, asserting that they feel betrayed by Mexico, which France claims is refusing to follow international legal protocol in the case, according to Le Figaro.
President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer with the legion d’honneur on Wednesday, February 16, AFP reported. In adorning Ballmer with the honor created under Napoleon, Sarkozy said that Microsoft and Ballmer embodied the humanist ideals of France and Europe, according to the Register. As the head of Microsoft, which employs 1,700 in France, Ballmer said he was moved to receive the honor. Thesymbolic recognition came as Sarkozy, during the French presidency of the G20, hopes to address the notion of a “civilized Internet,” which would fight illegal downloads and block illegal sites, according to Le Monde.
Christian Jacob, President of the UMP party in the French National Assembly, was among a number of politicians from the French right to criticize this week Dominique Strauss-Kahn, director of the International Monetary Fund and speculated as a top contender for the socialist bid and the presidency in 2012 despite no announcement of an intention to run. Over the weekend, Jacob said that Strauss-Kahn was not “the image of France,” which he justified on Wednesday, February 16, by explaining that he was simply asserting that Strauss-Kahn’s bourgeois backgrounds did not give him a realistic vision of the French people, particularly those in rural and working-class France, Le Point reported. The clarification came after accusations that Jacob’s remarks had been anti-Semitic, as explored by Le Monde. While members of the Socialist Party have been quick to defend Strauss-Kahn’s image, the heavy favorite among polls for the 2012 presidential elections has yet to speak, though when in Paris on Sunday, February 20, he is expected to make an appearance to address the issue, according to le JDD. Undoubtedly, whether he intends to run for the socialist nomination for president will be in question, as rumors have circulated throughout France following a simple statement by Strauss-Kahn’s wife, Anne Sinclair, that she did not want him to pursue a second term as director of the IMF, according to Le Point.
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