Former French president Jacques Chirac dies at 86

Robie de Guzman   •   September 26, 2019   •   451

Former French President Jacques Chirac

France’s former president Jacques Chirac died on Thursday (September 26) at the age of 86.

He was a charismatic figure who dominated French politics for decades and stirred national pride with his opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Chirac, whose film-star looks helped him emerge as a political prodigy in the 1960s and go on to become France’s second-longest-serving president, had long suffered from neurological problems and was rarely seen in public in recent times.

His popularity was based on symbolic gestures and his dignified demeanour after he abandoned a short-lived attempt at reforms early in his 1995-2007 presidency when it triggered a national strike.

Perhaps his most enduring political legacy was to found the forerunner of the opposition UMP party.

Nicknamed Houdini because of his knack for wriggling out of tight spots, Chirac’s reputation even survived a conviction for misuse of public funds in December, which made him the first head of state convicted since Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Petain in 1945.

For many, Chirac’s statesmanlike but jocular air personified a vision of France – encapsulating both its rural roots and its central role in diplomatic affairs envisaged by President Charles de Gaulle.

Even after retiring from public office, Chirac drew crowds of journalists and admirers.

One of his last public appearances was at an award ceremony given by his charitable foundation.

The frenetic energy and brashness of his successor Nicolas Sarkozy left many pining for the quieter days of Chirac’s 12-year presidency and the slower pace he set for public life.

Following in the footsteps of de Gaulle, Chirac devoted much of his presidency to defending France’s role as a great nation on the world stage — a worldview he consecrated by opposing the invasion of Iraq at the U.N. Security Council in 2003.

But in France, where Chirac was sometimes best known through his persona as a puppet on a popular TV show, he is also remembered for personality quirks like a taste for Mexican Corona beer, poor command of English and his seeming aloofness.

Chirac’s persona was also a puzzle: he enjoyed Asian art and Japanese poetry but liked to play down his intellectual side.

A commentator once described him as the kind of man who would read a book of poetry behind a copy of Playboy.

Born in 1932 to a middle-class family from the rural central French region of Correze, Chirac began his political career in the late 1950’s after studying at the elite Sciences Po university and ENA civil service academy.

As a teenager, he briefly sold the communist newspaper L’Humanite on Paris street corners.

He also developed an enduring love of America, crossing the country doing odd jobs – including a spell of washing dishes.

Yet his early leanings seemed forgotten when he became an army officer and linked up with the ultra-nationalist Algerie Francaise party – only to change tack again to become a moderate Gaullist and, by 1967, an ambitious junior minister.

He rose fast but also made enemies equally quickly.

He ripped apart the old Gaullist movement in 1974, backing non-Gaullist moderniser Valery Giscard d’Estaing for president.

Chirac was just 41 when Giscard made him prime minister on May 28, 1974 after winning power, but he quit two years later after falling out with Giscard over the extent of his powers.

He dramatically turned his back on Giscard by forming a new Gaullist party of his own, the Rally for the Republic (RPR) in 1976, which then become the Union for a Popular Majority (UMP).

The following year he was elected as Paris’ first mayor — starting an 18-year career at City Hall that would come back to haunt him.

After nearly two decades of investigations, he was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence last year for channelling public money into phantom jobs for political cronies as mayor from 1977 to 1995.

Though eventually convicted, Chirac was excused from attending the trial due to his failing memory.

Supporters would prefer that he be remembered for electoral victories in 1995 and 2002, when he was re-elected after a fraught head-to-head battle with far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen that sent shockwaves through the country.

He secured a landslide victory in that election but that was more vote against Le Pen than a resounding vote of confidence.

Though President Georges Pompidou once referred to him as “bulldozer” for his ability to get things done, Chirac’s presidency is remembered mostly as a time of stasis.

He ended compulsory military service and started moves that reintegrated France into the NATO defence alliance, reversing a policy set in the 1960s.

He sought as president to reduce unemployment and cut public debt, and steered France into Europe’s monetary union, but did little to modernise the economy or the state.

At one time a lover of all things American, he later led France’s opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003 which chilled relations with Washington.

Once an anti-European Gaullist, he became one of Europe’s main standard bearers.

He forged an alliance with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder which brought Europe’s two traditional powers closer together but upset some of their European Union partners.

His changing political views earned him nicknames such as Chameleon Bonaparte and the Weathervane.

He is, however, acknowledged as the first French head of state to recognise the role of the Vichy regime in the Holocaust and the first to apologise formally to the Jewish people.

After leaving the Elysee in 2007, he lived a quiet life, living with his wife on Paris’ Quai Voltaire in an apartment loaned by Lebanon’s Hariri family, and working on his memoirs, the second volume of which appeared last summer. (Reuters)

(Production: Ardee Napolitano)

Nokia workers protest against planned job cuts in Paris

UNTV News   •   July 9, 2020

Several hundred Nokia workers protested in Paris on Wednesday (July 8) against plans to cut over 1,200 jobs in its French subsidiary Alcatel-Lucent International.

Nokia has said most of the layoffs would come from research and development (R&D) teams. Unions say this is incomprehensible when Europe is preparing to deploy the next generation mobile network.

Member of the French parliament from the ruling party LaRem, Eric Bothorel, who was elected in the northwestern region of Côtes-d’Armor, where there are planned job cuts, said Nokia’s announcement came just after the date set releasing the company from commitments to preserve jobs.

Nokia was bound to job retention commitments when it acquired Alcatel Lucent in 2015. They expired in June.

Bothorel said the move was “making fun of the government” as it targeted people who were recently hired.

Nokia says it will continue to be a major employer in France with a strong foothold in R&D. (Reuters)

(Production: Emilie Delwarde, Thierry Chiarello, Yiming Woo, Ardee Napolitano)

French finance minister: working from home is not panacea for virus

UNTV News   •   June 15, 2020

Working from home is still a preferred option but is not the panacea for dealing with the problems caused by the coronavirus, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday (June 15), as France looks to speed up the re-opening of its economy.

“Working from home remains preferable, in the sense that it allows us to have a gradual return and can limit the circulation of the virus. But I’ve always considered that working from home was not the panacea,” Le Maire told France Info radio.

Even though many of France’s shops and restaurants have started to re-open, the major business districts of Paris remain empty as many employees are still working from home.

Le Maire also added that the state has begun to reduce its aid in covering partial unemployment benefits, to prompt companies to restart their activities. During the confinement period, the state covered 84 to 100 percent of salaries of furloughed employees.

He said working employees must be able to keep their purchasing power, to fuel consumption. (Reuters)

(Production: Michaela Cabrera)

Renault closes site, restructures factories in France in bid to slash costs

UNTV News   •   May 29, 2020

PART MUST ON-SCREEN COURTESY RENAULT.

Renault said on Friday (May 29) it was launching talks with unions to restructure several French car plants, as it confirmed plans to cut around 15,000 jobs worldwide and the closure of one France plant.

Faced with a slump in demand that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, Renault is aiming to find 2 billion euros ($2.22 billion) in savings over the next three years as it shrinks production and hones in on key car models.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Interim Chief Executive Clotilde Delbos said 4,600 jobs in France are in peril of being cut.

Renault Group Board of Directors Chair Jean-Dominique Senard hailed the cost-reduction plan to be both “defensive” and “offensive,” as he announced the closure of the Choisy-le-Roi factory, which manufactures motors, the sole plant to halt activity out of Renault’s 14 plant sites.

Senard said though that the Caudan site in Brittany, which was also threatened of closing will maintain operations, adding that Renault is working with the regional government to think about the future of the plant. (Reuters)

(Production: Ardee Napolitano)

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