Reports

  • A daring mission to transform a lost French mining town into a green oasis

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    In the middle of a socialist heartland of north-east France, a Green party mayor is leading an audacious and lonely project to revitalise his former coal-mining town, where unemployment runs above the national average, with the creation of ecology-focussed companies and research centres, and the ecodesign renovation of its private and public buildings. But this isolated development programme, and its promise of future job creations, is a slow and far from complete process which faces a stern test in municipal elections to be held later this month, when the far-right Front National party is forecast to make significant gains. Jade Lindgaard reports from Loos-en-Gohelle.

  • The endangered and ageing socialist 'principality' of the Ariège

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    The Ariège département in southern France has a long history as a bastion of the Socialist Party. Over several decades, it has been the fiefdom of a clan of local politicians who are accused by opponents of ruling with a surprisingly monarchic set of practices: cronyism, the hoarding by a few of multiple posts of public office, political functions handed down to groomed successors, and intimidation of opponents.  In this, his third and final report from one of the poorest and least inhabited départements in France, Mathieu Magnaudeix investigates the inside workings of what might be likened to a socialist ‘principality’.

  • 'It's becoming like Chicago': the slide into despair and fear of a once-thriving small French town

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    La halle de Lavelanet, 11 h du matin, un jour de semaine. © M.M. La halle de Lavelanet, 11 h du matin, un jour de semaine. © M.M.

    The once-prosperous textile-producing town of Lavelanet, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains close to the Spanish border, has for decades suffered a decline that was sharply accentuated by the recent economic crisis. With dwindling public services and with a quarter of the active population unemployed, it is a mirror image of many towns across France where the loss of industrial activity has sapped the local social fabric. In this, the second of three reports from the southern département of the Ariège, Mathieu Magnaudeix finds that in Lavelanet, amid a pervading collective sense of abandonment, concern over law and order and fear of 'outsiders' dominate the conversation.

     

  • 'I'll never vote socialist again': damning verdict from French voters in left-wing stronghold

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    Lavelanet. Statue de Jaurès devant la mairie.  © M.M. Lavelanet. Statue de Jaurès devant la mairie. © M.M.

    The Ariège département on the border with Spain is known as one of the most socialist areas of France, with voters regularly turning out in force to support candidates on the Left. But perhaps no more. Mediapart visited this part-rural, part-industrial area, one that has been ravaged by the economic crisis, to find that traditionally socialist voters are now split between grave doubts and anger towards their own party. In the first of three reports from the Ariège, Mathieu Magnaudeix discovers that the main beneficiary of this tide of discontent is likely to be the far-right Front national.

  • Tragedy of the Central African Republic: diamonds in the soil, poverty on the streets

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    Les murs des maisons de Carnot rappellent que le diamant est une richesse importante de la ville. © Thomas Cantaloube Les murs des maisons de Carnot rappellent que le diamant est une richesse importante de la ville. © Thomas Cantaloube

    The Central African Republic is regularly held up as a country rich in diamonds, uranium and other valuable minerals. But despite the wealth of its natural resources this former French colony remains one of the poorest countries on earth. As French troops try to restore order in this strife-torn country, Mediapart's Thomas Cantaloube reports from the mining area of Carnot and discovers the reasons why prosperity continues to be so elusive.

  • Tensions mount between Paris and Bern as Swiss bankers due before Cahuzac probe

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    Amid a fast-developing dispute between the French and Swiss justice services, two Paris magistrates leading a judicial investigation into how former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac established secret foreign bank accounts are this week due to question two Swiss bankers about their roles in helping him hide funds from the French tax authorities over two decades. François Reyl, CEO of Geneva bank Reyl & Cie and his father Dominique Reyl, founder of the company, have been summoned to appear before the magistrates on Tuesday and Wednesday, when they face being placed under investigation for ‘laundering the proceeds of tax evasion’. Agathe Duparc reports on the background to what may prove to be a legal watershed for the Swiss banking industry, whose 'professional confidentiality' the justice authorities in Bern have shown themselves keen to protect.

    (See update at end of article page)

  • How French hospitals flout medical confidentiality with private contractors

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    French hospitals increasingly allow private healthcare administration companies access to patients’ confidential medical records in violation of the ethics and regulations governing the medical profession. The widespread practice, which has come to light after a hospital doctor in western France turned whistleblower, is a side-effect of an increasingly complex system cash-strapped healthcare establishments must use to obtain state refunding of the medical acts they perform. Caroline Coq-Chodorge reports.

  • The battle in Burgundy to save a forested land from a job-promising plant

    By Anne Duvivier
    Coupe à blanc d'une parcelle © Philippe Maillard Coupe à blanc d'une parcelle © Philippe Maillard

    In a struggling rural region of Burgundy, at the gates of the Morvan national park, locals have mounted a campaign to halt a private company from creating a vast wood-processing industrial site which would bring hundreds of jobs to the area. Local politicians support the project as offering a much-needed boost to the flagging local economy, while its opponents argue the environmental cost for a short-term gain is unacceptable. The future of the site now hangs on a ruling due from France’s highest court, the Council of State. “What’s being played out here is truly a debate about society,” says Christian Paul, socialist Member of Parliament for the region and one of the project’s supporters. Anne Duvivier reports.

  • Poverty forcing French pensioners to go back to work

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    The number of retired people in France taking up jobs after they have supposedly ended their working lives has doubled in recent years. At least half of them go back to work because they cannot live on their meagre pensions. Rachida El Azzouzi travelled to one French city to meet the pensioners who fear that they may go 'straight from the toolbox to a wooden box in the cemetery'.

  • 'We'll die on the job': the dread and despair over new French pensions system reform

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     © Rachida El Azzouzi © Rachida El Azzouzi

    French trades unions will meet with business organisations this Thursday for the start of three months of talks and negotiations on reforming the French pensions system,  ahead of a bill of reform which President François Hollande wants to present before parliament by the end of the year. At stake is the reduction of the spiralling deficit of the pay-as-you-go pensions system, which currently costs the equivalent 13.3% of the country’s GDP. “Since we are living longer, sometimes much longer, we’ll have to work at least a bit longer,” said Hollande in May, confirming that the minimum retirement age, set at 62 with rights to full benefits obtainable only after 41.5 years of contributions in unpopular reforms in 2010, is to be further increased. The issue is highly charged politically, with Hollande under strong EU pressure to reduce the public deficit while also facing widespread opposition to any further extension of the retirement age from his grass-roots supporters on the Left. Unions warn that for vast numbers of manual workers, worn out after decades of physically gruelling jobs, a further hike of the retirement age will leave them with few other prospects to look forward to other than ill-health and death. Rachida El Azzouzi travelled to the Charente region in south-west France to meet with employees of a battery-making plant who have spent most of their working lives exposed to toxic materials and working alternating shifts of repetitive, straining tasks. They speak of their dread of another rise of the retirement age and why, if Hollande attempts to do so, he can count on a fierce fight.