What the Sanofi saga tells us about the state of France's industrial strategy

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A Sanofi distribution centre at Val-de-Reuil in Normandy. © Joel Saget/ AFP A Sanofi distribution centre at Val-de-Reuil in Normandy. © Joel Saget/ AFP

The French pharmaceuticals firm Sanofi has been in the headlines recently because of its setbacks in producing a vaccine against Covid-19, which will not now be ready until the end of 2021 at the earliest. Yet the group has nonetheless decided to go ahead with its restructuring plans and will be trimming back on its research while also moving many of its production plants into a separate company to be sold off. France is now paying the price for having abandoned its industrial and research strategies over the last thirty years. Martine Orange investigates.

The fear and rising anger of French job centre staff after colleague was shot dead

By Cécile Hautefeuille
Two women lay flowers at the Pôle Emploi branch in Valence on January 29th 2021, a day after the murder of a supervisor there. © PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP Two women lay flowers at the Pôle Emploi branch in Valence on January 29th 2021, a day after the murder of a supervisor there. © PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

On Thursday January 28th a supervisor at a Pôle Emploi employment centre in south-east France was shot dead, sending a shock wave of alarm through all branches of the government agency. Staff had already seen growing violence and tension in their branches from disgruntled job seekers, a discontent that has been further fuelled by the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on the economy. As Cécile Hautefeuille found out, fear among job centre staff is now rapidly turning to anger.

How French interior minister Gérald Darmanin shifted his line of defence in rape claim probe

By and
Denies the claims: interior minister Gérald Darmanin. © THOMAS COEX / AFP Denies the claims: interior minister Gérald Darmanin. © THOMAS COEX / AFP

Mediapart has had access to new information in the current investigation into rape allegations against France's interior minister Gérald Darmanin, claims that date back to 2009. Some documents we have seen contradict parts of his defence. The file also shows that when he was questioned by the investigating judge in mid-December 2020 the minister - who denies the claims - changed his version of events over a key exchange of SMS messages, in which the complainant accuses him of having “abused his position”. And in addition the minister gave new explanations to justify some of the more embarrassing aspects of the case. Antton Rouget and Marine Turchi report.

The Algerian view of the report by historian Benjamin Stora on France's colonial past

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The skulls of Algerian resistance fighters decapitated during France's conquest in the 19th century have been returned to the country. © Sofiane Bakouri / Hans Lucas via AFP The skulls of Algerian resistance fighters decapitated during France's conquest in the 19th century have been returned to the country. © Sofiane Bakouri / Hans Lucas via AFP

In January 2021 the French historian Benjamin Stora delivered a report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron that is aimed at “reconciling memories” between France and its former colony Algeria. The French head of state said he would follow a recommendation in the report and establish a “memories and truth” commission to address the history of France’s colonial past in Algeria, but he stopped short of issuing an official apology. The report itself has attracted criticism in both France and Algeria. Mediapart has asked two Algerian historians, Afaf Zekkour and Noureddine Amara, for their views of the document and of Franco-Algeiran relations in general. The pair criticise Stora for what they call “soft revisionism” and for prioritising France's needs for a united view over the recounting of history. Rachida El Azzouzi reports.

On board the vaccine bus in rural France

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Robert, aged 86, and nurse Naura Touaimia on board the Vacci’bus in a village near Reims. © CA Robert, aged 86, and nurse Naura Touaimia on board the Vacci’bus in a village near Reims. © CA

If you cannot come to the vaccine, then the vaccine will come to you. That is the idea behind the 'Vacci'bus' which is visiting parts of rural France at the moment to vaccinate older people in isolated villages against Covid-19. Mediapart went on board a bus servicing the area around Reims where the idea first began, and met some of the residents of these remote communities north-east of Paris. The elderly inhabitants were delighted to be on the bus and receiving their vaccination. But they also revealed what they have been enduring in their village homes during the long months of the epidemic. “We're alone, afraid and we don't see anyone,” one woman said. Cécile Andrzejewski reports.

Justice minister's legal reform will hamper anti-corruption fight say French prosecutors

By Pierre Januel
Justice minister Éric Dupond Moretti leaving a meeting of ministers at the Elysée on December 9th 2020. © Arthur Nicholas Orchard / Hans Lucas via AFP Justice minister Éric Dupond Moretti leaving a meeting of ministers at the Elysée on December 9th 2020. © Arthur Nicholas Orchard / Hans Lucas via AFP

France's justice minister Éric Dupond-Moretti is planning to bring in a raft of reforms to the country's legal system. But prosecutors and many lawyers are worried at the minister's plans to create a new hybrid status for in-house or company legal staff and to grant them the same “legal privilege” as independent lawyers. The move is designed to help defend large French companies against the long arm of the American justice system. Yet critics fear the change would stop French investigators from getting hold of key company documents and become a further obstacle to tackling corruption. Pierre Januel reports.

Firm which produces France's favourite bottled water faces claims of polluting stream

By Mathieu Martiniere (We Report)
The stream close to the Roxane bottling plant at La Ferrière-Bochard. © Alberto Campi The stream close to the Roxane bottling plant at La Ferrière-Bochard. © Alberto Campi

For nearly twenty years fishermen, residents and environment inspectors have raised the alarm over pollution seeping from an industrial bottling plant owned by the French group Roxane in Normandy. Locals say the organic pollution has caused major harm to the stream, which feeds into the River Sarthe. Roxane, the third largest French bottling company and owner of Cristaline, the most widely-consumed bottled water in the country, also has its headquarters at the site. Mathieu Martiniere of the independent journalists collective 'We Report' investigates.

French maritime rescue ship Ocean Viking docks in Sicily carrying 374 migrants

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Migrants aboard the Ocean Viking celebrate the news after permission was granted to dock in Italy. © NB Migrants aboard the Ocean Viking celebrate the news after permission was granted to dock in Italy. © NB

The Ocean Viking, flagship of the French-based maritime humanitarian organisation SOS Méditerranée, was allowed to dock in Sicily on Monday after rescuing 374 migrants attempting, in overcrowded rubber dinghies, the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. It was the first time the ship had been on a search and rescue operation since it was blocked for five months last year in an Italian port. Mediapart’s Nejma Brahim was aboard the Ocean Viking for its two-week sortie, and reports on the tense last moments of its mission as it battled heavy seas between Malta and Sicily.

US firms behind Agent Orange stand trial in France

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Trân Tô Nga at a press conference in Paris, January 21st 2021. © FB Trân Tô Nga at a press conference in Paris, January 21st 2021. © FB

A French court on Monday began hearing the case of Trân Tô Nga, a 78-year-old woman of joint Vietnamese and French nationality who fell victim to the herbicidal chemical cocktail known as Agent Orange, massively employed by US forces during the Vietnam War. Her civil complaint targets more than 20 US chemical firms for their part in the production of Agent Orange, to which almost five million of the Vietnamese population are estimated to have been, like herself, directly exposed, causing deaths, diseases and also malformations among their descendants. François Bougon reports on what Trân Tô Nga and her supporters hope will be an historic trial following the rebuttal of victims’ complaints before US courts.

Mystery of vanished French casino heiress sealed by death of man convicted of her murder

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Maurice Agnelet, pictured on April 12th 2014, just minutes before he was sentenced to 20 year in jail for the murder of Agnès Le Roux. © JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD / AFP Maurice Agnelet, pictured on April 12th 2014, just minutes before he was sentenced to 20 year in jail for the murder of Agnès Le Roux. © JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD / AFP

One of the most mysterious, high-profile murder mysteries in France over the past five decades was the disappearance without trace in 1977 of Agnès Le Roux, the 29-year-old heiress of one of the country’s biggest casinos, the Palais de la Méditerranée in the Riviera city of Nice. In an extraordinary legal saga, her former lover, lawyer Maurice Agnelet, was acquitted of murdering her, after an initial case against him had been dropped, and twice found guilty. Last Tuesday, Agnelet, 82, died, apparently of a heart attack, shortly after he was released from prison on medical grounds. His death most certainly removes the last hope of ever knowing the truth of what really happened to Agnès Le Roux. Michel Henry reports on an enduring mystery.

French pharma giant Sanofi struggling in race for Covid vaccine

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Covid-19 vaccines are competing in Europe in a multi-billion euro market. © AFP Covid-19 vaccines are competing in Europe in a multi-billion euro market. © AFP

The so-called “big pharma” groups are engaged in fierce competition to produce efficacious Covid-19 vaccines. While Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have gained widespread approval for their vaccines, that of France’s flagship pharma group Sanofi, developed in partnership with UK drugs firm GSK, is seriously delayed after disappointing clinical tests. Some argue that Sanofi should serve the public interest and turn to producing the approved vaccines of its rivals, supplies of which are disrupted. But, as Rozenn Le Saint reports, the stakes are high and defeat would be costly in more ways than one.

ECHR ruling on Bettencourt tapes: a defeat for the freedom of information

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The late L'Oréal heiress and billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, pictured here in Paris in October 2011. © FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP The late L'Oréal heiress and billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, pictured here in Paris in October 2011. © FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

The European Court of Human Rights has found that the French state did not violate the principle of freedom of expression by imposing on Mediapart the censorship, in 2013, of 70 articles which revealed the vast criminal scandal of the so-called “Bettencourt affair”, based on tape recordings made by billionaire Liliane Bettencourt’s major-domo. Fabrice Arfi details the case.  

French probe into Nicolas Sarkozy's 3m-euro Russian contract

By and
Nicolas Sarkozy, pictured here attending a conference in Moscow on January 16th 2020. © Evgeny Biyatov / Sputnik via AFP Nicolas Sarkozy, pictured here attending a conference in Moscow on January 16th 2020. © Evgeny Biyatov / Sputnik via AFP

The French public prosecution services on Friday confirmed they have opened a preliminary investigation into suspected “influence peddling” in relation to a 3-million-euro contract handed to former president Nicolas Sarkozy by Russian insurance services group RESO-Garantia in 2019. The group, one of the largest insurance companies in Russia, is owned by brothers Sergei and Nikolai Sarkisov, whose business dealings, including the sale of a third of its capital to French insurance giant AXA, have involved complex financial structures in tax havens. Yann Philippin and Antton Rouget report.   

Covid-19: why French carehome staff are refusing the vaccine

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Régine, 71, became the first resident at the Garonne hospital in Toulouse to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, January 5th. © Frédéric Scheiber / Hans Lucas via AFP Régine, 71, became the first resident at the Garonne hospital in Toulouse to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, January 5th. © Frédéric Scheiber / Hans Lucas via AFP

The French government has announced a target of administering one million jabs of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of January. Priority for the voluntary jab has been given to the elderly and healthcare workers, but it appears that a significant number of staff in the country’s carehomes are refusing to be vaccinated over fears they have of potential side effects. Cécile Andrzejewski has been speaking to carehome workers across France about their scepticism, which they say is based on past incoherencies and U-turns in government policy to the coronavirus epidemic.   

Migrant crisis leads to growing violence on French overseas territory of Mayotte

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Having lost both legs when injured by a police boat while trying to get to Mayotte, Djassadi Farid now lives with the help of his father not far from the capital Mamoudzou. © JS Having lost both legs when injured by a police boat while trying to get to Mayotte, Djassadi Farid now lives with the help of his father not far from the capital Mamoudzou. © JS

Violence is reaching unprecedented levels in the French overseas département of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, prompted by the arrival of migrants from the neighbouring island nation of Comoros on makeshift boats. The result has been regular expulsions and repatriation of illegal migrants, clashes between the new arrivals and locals, and even riots. The situation has been exacerbated by the Covid crisis. Meanwhile the heavy-handed security response by the authorities in this small département has caused disquiet among local associations. Julien Sartre reports.