Reports

  • '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.

  • The sad stories from the Paris refuge offering a lifeline to rejected young gays

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    Gerdel dans les locaux parisiens de l'association. © M.T. Gerdel dans les locaux parisiens de l'association. © M.T.

    Over the past eight months France has been locked in a fiercely divisive and often violent debate over the government’s same-sex marriage bill, which was finally enshrined into law last Saturday by President François Hollande. Gay rights groups have denounced mounting homophobia amid the hot contestation to the law, while opponents are due to stage a further mass protest in Paris on May 26th. Le Refuge is a national association that offers shelter, medical services and psychological counselling to youngsters who have been rejected and often made homeless by their families because of their homosexuality. It has seen a surge in requests for help since the debate kicked off in earnest last autumn, increasing five-fold over the same period one year earlier. Marine Turchi visited the association’s Paris centre and heard the distressing stories of those for whom it offers a lifeline.

  • Foreign investors scent profits as Greece sells off the family silver

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    L'entrée du Golden Hall © dr L'entrée du Golden Hall © dr

    Has Greece become the new El Dorado for foreign investors? The country is currently busily selling off state-run enterprises, lucrative concessions in state monopolies and coastal resort sites, and has slashed labour costs. The result is that numerous overseas businesses and funds, including some from China, Russia and Qatar, are eager to pour cash into the crisis-stricken country despite local opposition to many of the sell-offs. Amélie Poinssot reports.

  • The pride and prejudice as France adopts same-sex marriage law

    France is set to become the 14th country worldwide - and the ninth in Europe - to open up marriage to homosexual couples after its parliament on Tuesday voted in favour of a bill of law to give marriage and adoption rights to couples of the same sex. It now remains for the socialist government to enact the law, while a group of conservative opposition MPs, whose UMP party has campaigned against the bill, have promised to contest it before France’s Constitutional Council. The vote on an issue that has divided public opinion comes after six months of demonstrations for and against amid sometimes hysterical rhetoric from politicians. Mediapart reporters joined separate rallies in Paris held by opponents and supporters of the marriage reform. The opinions expressed reveal apparently irreconcilable views over the issue, while many gays spoke of their indignation and fear over the upsurge in insults and violence they have personally witnessed since last autumn.

  • The colonial ghost haunting the rebuilding of a post-war Mali

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     © Thomas Cantaloube © Thomas Cantaloube

    The French military intervention against Islamist forces in Mali has been widely welcomed by the country’s population, and has produced a radical change in what were often strained relations between the two countries. While the Islamist rebels have been pushed back to the far north of Mali, Operation Serval is now due to begin winding down next month, leaving a series of new and major challenges ahead. Many in the country are hoping France, the former colonial ruler, will play an important part in meeting them. For beyond securing the country from further Jihadist attacks, Mali needs to be rebuilt, from its vital infrastructures to its political institutions, discredited by an aging and corrupt elite. Could the country now find itself under the trusteeship of France?  Thomas Cantaloube reports from the Malian capital Bamako, where the ghost of colonialism haunts the path to a brighter future.

  • 'We're losing 5-0': the sombre mood among French socialist MPs after budget minister's resignation

     © Reuters © Reuters

    The resignation of budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac after a full judicial investigation was launched over his Swiss bank account sent shock waves through the ruling Socialist Party. Many MPs refuse to believe that their colleague has lied over the affair. Others want to turn the page as quickly as possible and put the matter behind them. But as Mathieu Magnaudeix, Stéphane Alliès and Lénaïg Bredoux report, one thing that is certain is that the resignation has not improved the mood in the ruling party, where one MP likened the current situation to a football match in which his side is being hammered...

  • 'Grey income takes the blue from the sky': how ordinary Chinese cope with the everyday reality of corruption

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    Le conservatoire central de musique de Pékin. Près de 500 € l'heure de cours supplémentaire. © Jordan Pouille Le conservatoire central de musique de Pékin. Près de 500 € l'heure de cours supplémentaire. © Jordan Pouille

    The pollution that dominates the skies above the Chinese capital Beijing has been blamed on many things – too many cars, too many building sites, not enough wind. But for some locals the real cause is corruption. Payments by polluting firms ensure that the inspectors simply do not inspect them. Indeed, the issue of so-called 'grey' or undeclared income has become a huge one across the country. Anyone who is able to get involved does so; secretaries ordering takeaway meals for their bosses, minor civil servants who rent out their homes a slum landlords, even teachers at music schools. As Jordan Pouille reports from Beijing, there are now growing calls for the public to have a say in stamping out corruption.

  • Hélène Labarrière and her musical 'non-order'

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    Vidéo dans l'article © Patrick Artinian Vidéo dans l'article © Patrick Artinian

    French double-bassist Hélène Labarrière (pictured), a composer of jazz and free improvisation music, has carved herself a singular place on the French music scene. Using influences that range from Breton folk songs to West African rhythms, her music is an indefinable, eclectic mix that has evolved from her initial groundings in jazz when, in her early  20s, her first recording was made with the celebrated American alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. Last month she and her quartet took to the stage at the Sons d’hiver (Winter sounds) festival in the Paris suburb of Saint-Mandé to present their latest work, Désordre. Patrick Artinian filmed their performance and interviewed Labarrière, who says she sees "something political" in the joyous non-order of their music.

  • Lower hedges and no flat roofs: building a safer future on France's sink estates

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    According to a theory called situational crime prevention, crime levels can be reduced by using clever urban planning to minimise opportunities for would-be offenders. This idea has been widely adopted across the English-speaking world but has taken time to gain ground in France, where only since 2011 have the police been formally consulted over large-scale urban housing schemes. Nevertheless, many French cities did not wait for new laws to be voted to apply security criteria on their own territory. Louise Fessard reports.

  • Paris, Printemps and predatory finance

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    The famous Printemps department store on the boulevard Haussmann in Paris (pictured) is up for sale. On the surface it is just another routine high-end Paris property transaction. But behind the scenes, reveals Mediapart, one of the current owners is preparing a 'predatory' financial deal that would see a handful of its top executives walk away with up to 500 million euros. Meanwhile the real cost of the sale will fall on the department store's staff, who could be left without a job or put on less secure work contracts. Martine Orange reports.