French News in English 

Published by France Now Association

Editor: Arvind Ashta

Editorial Committee:

W. W. Strangmeyer,

Emmanuelle Ashta




(French news in English)

July 1999, Monthly, Issue No. 27

(Only highlighted issues available for on-line consultation)

The Conseil Constitutionnel judges the European Charter For Regional Or Minority Languages


On the 7th of May this year, the government declared its intention to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages indicating that it agrees to thirty-nine out of the ninety-eight optional clauses contained in the third part of the Charter. The clauses accepted are applied only to the languages that the government agrees to consider as regional or minority languages.

Using article 54 of the Constitution, the President of the Republic decided to consult the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) to determine if the ratification of the Charter has to be preceded by a Constitutional Amendment. In short, the President wanted to know whether the Charter contained a clause which went against the French Constitution. Yes, replied the Constitutional Council. Since the verdict of the Constitutional Council created a huge hue and cry in Brittany and in the Basque country, it is worthwhile understanding why the Constitutional Council has found that the European Charter violates the existing Constitution.

The Constitutional Council observed that as far as the thirty-nine optional engagements of France were concerned, these are applicable to the languages that the government declares as minority or regional languages. The government, however, also has to agree to the Preamble and the first two sections. Section I includes article one to six and Section II contains article seven. Specifically, the stipulations of Article seven (see box) are valid for all minority or territorial languages and not just those agreed to by the French government. So, the conformity of this has to be viewed in relation to all languages. We reproduce the relevant parts of the articles of the Charter that the Constitutional Council found violated the Constitution. We are also reproducing the two articles of the Constitution which are relevant.

First, the Constitutional council observed that article one of the French Constitution is the uniting principle of the French people. No segment of it can claim national sovereignty. This fundamental principal is opposed to the recognition of collective rights of any group defined by origin, culture, language or belief. The requirements of article seven of the Charter go against the principle of indivisibility because they require that administrative areas be territorially defined in a way that does not disturb the promotion of minority or regional languages. For this, the Parties shall take into consideration the needs and wishes expressed by the groups which use such languages. In short, the democratic principle of majority decision is being replaced by minority preferences. This goes against the principles of indivisibility of the country, of equality before the law and the unity of the French people. Second, the Freedom to communicate one's thoughts freely, included in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizens, has to be reconciled with Article 2 of the Constitution which says that the language of the Republic is French. This means that public organisations and public services have to use French as their language. The citizens cannot force the administration to accept another language, nor can they be constrained to use another language. However, nothing stops the citizens from using translations or for teaching or communicating in another language. In short, public life is in French, but private life can be in any language. As opposed to this, the fourth clause of the Preamble of the Charter recognises that each person will have the right to use any minority or regional language in public as well as private life.

After the decision of the Constitutional Council declaring that the Constitution would need to be revised before the ratification of the Charter, the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, asked the President, Jacques Chirac, to initiate the revision of the Constitution. Jacques Chirac refused. In view of the European election results, where the right-wing voters seem to have given a major backing to Charles Pasqua's nationalist stance, it is understandable that Jacques Chirac is hesitating to weaken the French language by encouraging the adoption of the statutes favouring minority languages.

Fiscal federalism: Taxing mobile interest income


The big problem in taxing interest income from capital is that capital is now too mobile to be taxed. The only solution would be a federal world, where the global government taxes capital. Or, if all states taxed it at the same rate.

Within the European Union, this problem has already confronted the member states. Most of them have socialist governments and find it difficult to accept that as states open their borders within a federation, taxing capital and skilled labour becomes harder. Increasingly, taxes have to be levied on property income and unskilled labour who find it difficult to move (especially in a Europe with language barriers).

There are three options open to taxing capital. The simplest is that the tax is centralised and handed over to the European government to implement. This would eliminate any competition amongst member-states. The problem of capital fleeing outside the European Union would remain. The major opposition to this fiscal simplicity is that the Europeans are not politically ready to let EU have tax sovereignty.

The second option would be that all the nations levy the same rate of taxation. This would also eliminate competition for capital amongst member-states. The problem of capital fleeing outside the European Union would remain. The major opposition to this measure is that the governments of different countries have different political ideologies reflecting their different cultures. They do not believe in the same mix of tax instruments. Some are opposed to taxing capital. Others would like to tax it strongly.

The third option is a system of information and controls by which bankers of all the member-countries are required to inform the governments of every country of cross-border capital interest income of their residents. This option preserves the fiscal paradise status of Luxembourg and allows capital to remain within the EU. Simultaneously, it allows overseas investors the security that their governments would not be given this information. So, investment inflow is safeguarded. However, strict intra-EU control and information laws may incite EU residents to prefer foreign tax havens to intra-EU ones. A major problem is that the monitoring of extensive control and information systems may be as expensive as the tax revenue from this source, especially in an age of Internet and high-velocity real-time outflows and inflows of capital. The other problem is that countries asking for too much information from investors may discourage many investors from placing their capital in that country.

In view of all this, the EU is proposing that every member country levy a minimum tax on interest income from capital. Beyond this threshold level, each member-State would be free to charge whatever rate it wants. The question is what should be the minimum tax at source that bankers are asked to retain on interest paid. The French Senate has proposed that the minimum threshold be less than 20%.

The dividing line between the legislator and the executive

Articles 34, 37 and 38 of the French Constitution


In the division of powers between the legislator and the executive, the Parliament passes laws and the executive passes ordinances, decrees and orders to enable it to execute its political program. What is the dividing line between the domain of law and that of decrees and ordinances? In France, this dividing line is determined by the Constitution, notably by Articles 34, 37 and 38.

Article 34 of the French Constitution stipulates that the law is voted by the Parliament. The law fixes the rules governing a host of matters contained in this article (for example, the creation of new orders of jurisdiction, the creation of categories of public establishments, etc.). The law also fixes the fundamental principles of some specified matters (for example, for the free administration of the localities, their competence and their resources). The finance bill fixes the receipts and expenditure of the State. The bill for financing Social Security determines the general conditions for balancing its budget. Program laws determine the objectives of the economic and social action of the State.

Article 35 states that the declaration of war is authorised by the Parliament. Article 36 stipulates that the state of siege is decreed by the Council of Ministers.

Article 37 states that matters which are not in the domain of law are of a regulatory nature. Legislative texts in such matters (i.e., not specified in art 37) can be modified by decrees, after taking advice from the State Council (Conseil d'Etat). But new legislative texts (after 1958) on regulatory matters can be modified by decree only if the Constitutional Council has declared that they are of a regulatory nature.

Article 38 says that in order to execute its program the government can ask Parliament's permission to pass temporary ordinances to take action in domains normally reserved for law (Article 34). Such ordinances are passed by the Council of Ministers after taking the advice of the State Council. They cease to be valid if the bill is not deposed before the Parliament in the time detailed in its authorisation. After the specified time, the ordinances can be modified only by Parliamentary law.

In a federation like India, there are similarities and differences in regard to the separation of powers between the executive and the legislator. There, the Parliament makes laws on all matters within the Union or concurrent lists (see the Seventh Schedule). The Union executive can pass orders in the name of the President (article 77) on all matters which are in the competence of Parliament (article 73) except if the State Parliament has power to legislate. The President can pass temporary ordinances during recess of Parliament (article 123). Parallel provisions exist for the States and their legislatures, executives and governors for matters specified in the State List.

In the American Constitution, Article I, Section I specifies that all legislative powers are vested in the Congress, but the executive (the President) can pass executive orders and proclamations. The Constitution itself does not provide any guidelines as to the dividing line between legislation and executive orders, nor is case law on the subject very detailed.

The ASSEDIC and the ANPE


When someone becomes unemployed owing to no fault of his own, he gets an unemployment dole from the ASSEDIC*. He has to telephone this agency, the day after the formalities for termination of the employment have been completed by his employer. If someone transfers his residence to another city, he has seven days to register with the local ASSEDIC in the new city without losing his rights.

The ASSEDIC is the agency dealing with the unemployment dole. For any request for doles, it has to inform the applicant one way or the other. It has to provide reasons for refusal. If it accepts the request, the applicant still has to fulfil certain conditions. One of these is that the applicant must have worked for at least four months in a specified period. Another is that the unemployed person register himself as a person seeking employment with the ANPE*. He has to actively seek a job and keep a dossier of his research... the ASSEDIC will investigate every four months. Another condition is that every month one fills up one's declaration of unemployment, unless one is over 57 and a half years of age. If one is late in filing his declaration (after the 10th), the dole may be interrupted. The declaration can be filled in by post, telephone or by Minitel. The ASSEDIC also has to be informed, within 72 hours, of all changes in one's situation: work, illness, address, civil status, training programs, etc. During illness, one does not get the unemployment dole... one gets the appropriate medical benefits. Any absence for more than 7 consecutive days has also to be intimated. Such absences are allowed within an annual limit of 35 days. Normally, the unemployment dole is available only to people under the age of 60. But some people who have not worked the required time to get the full rate of pension (most educated people) can opt for the unemployment dole till the age of 65. People who are seasonally unemployed get a different kind of dole. If one resigns, or if there is a negotiated termination, the ASSEDIC can refuse the dossier. But, even for voluntary quitting the job, the dole can be given after four months, if one can prove that he has seriously been looking for a job.

The dole is a daily allowance. It varies with the number of days in a month (28, 29, 30 or 31). To determine the daily unemployment dole, the base is the gross salary including the bonuses subjected to social security contributions. But final indemnities linked to unpaid leave and to termination of contract are not included in the base. The gross allowance is about 57.4% of the daily gross salary for those earning more than FF 10,722 per month. On this allowance, the State levies 8.46% for CSG*, RDS* and complementary retirement benefits. The percentage is marginally higher for people earning less than FF 10,722 but there is a minimum allowance of FF 148.13 per day. The initial period of the dole varies with the length of the service.

After the initial period of getting the full dole, the dole reduces every six months by 15% or 17%. The total length of the reduced dole also depends on the time one has already worked. It can vary from 4 months to 30 months.

The dole itself starts eight days after one has last worked. This period without dole gets extended if the employer pays any compensation for unavailed leave and if he gives any indemnity for the rupture of the contract beyond what is legally required.

The ASSEDIC also looks after training allowances which are provided to those who decide to go in for some training or education to provide them more qualifications. The training allowance is the same amount as the current dole, and does not reduce during the training. However, once the training is over, the person's income falls to the level it would have attained if one had not gone on training. On specific request, the ASSEDIC may even finance the cost of the training.

After registering with the ASSEDIC, within two weeks one goes to the ANPE for the first interview in the search for employment. This first interview is obligatory. The purpose is to establish the professional profile for the computer database as well as the needs of the unemployed person in finding a job, including any training.

The consultants at the ANPE try to help you decide the most appropriate way for the unemployed person to find a job. They also help you with your CV as well as prepare you for interviews. The ANPE has employment offers which can be consulted in each agency, on the MINITEL, or in their publications. The ANPE has also a lot of information on the enterprises as well as the employment situation in each field.

There is also help available to inform the person of the different techniques of job research, of evaluation on one's professional competences, or elaborating a professional project. Free equipment is provided by the ANPE: Minitel, telephone and photocopying. The ANPE also helps you identify if you need supplementary training in any field. During this training, the ASSEDIC may stop your unemployment dole and give you a training allowance. But any such training projects have to be determined within six months after the start of the unemployment dole, even if they start later.

A point worth noting is that many family welfare allowances are linked to one's income. When someone becomes unemployed, his income falls, because the dole is much less than the income. He may therefore become eligible for some family welfare allowances for which he was hitherto earning too much. So don't forget to go to the CAF*.

Advantages of being unemployed include not having to pay social security charges on the new activity. The ANPE also provides cheques for six hours financial advice from consultants specialised in the creation of enterprises.

One may also get the unemployment dole and work, as long as one does not exceed 136 hours per month and does not earn more than 70% of the reference salary used by the ASSEDIC in calculating the unemployment dole. The gross salary plus the paid leave are divided by the old reference base. The dole comes down proportionately (in number of days). The rights to the dole are not lost if one works: they are just postponed. It is advisable to stay registered during the trial period: otherwise the initial period of eight days after being registered are lost.

ASSEDIC : Association pour l'emploi dans l'industrie et le commerece

ANPE : Agence Nationale pour l'emploi

CSG : Contribution Sociale Généralisée

RDS: Remboursement de la Dette Sociale

CAF: Caisse d'Allocations Familiales

The war against Termites


Now that money has been made in the fight against asbestos, now that the Serbs have proclaimed their victory in an unequal battle, now that money has to be spent in some new direction, to create a multiplier effect, what could be better than declaring a full-fledged onslaught on termites. No, it is not an emergency proclamation by the President. It is a much thought over, much discussed, plan of action. They even voted for this war in Parliament and passed a law on it on the 8th of June.

The full force of the French government and the public powers is now being waged against termites and other xylophagic insects. The Greek Xylon means wood, as in xylophone, a wooden musical instrument. Xylophagic insects attack wood, not man. But since the French use wood in their housing structures, especially for fashionable visible beams, an attack on wood becomes an attack on French property. And this in turn is an issue for governments to deal with. So the first article of the law reminds us that the fight is necessary to protect our buildings.

Under this law, the occupants, the owners and the syndicates of co-owners have all been turned into sentries who have to signal to the Mairie the presence of any termites. Sentries failing in their duty to alarm the Mayor can be fined (a decree will specify the amount of the fine). The Mayor calls on the Prefect who is to immediately send commandos to the invaded zone and destroy the enemy by fire, or at least treat occupied wood temporarily before removing it for burning is a safer place. Any commandos who fail to do their duty would be fined.

Besides the system of constant alert against a rather invisible enemy, the Mayor can also ask owners of property to investigate and take preventive or eradicative action in sensitive zones. If the owner does not do so, the Mayor can himself send investigative teams at the expense of the owner.

Under French law, if a property has hidden defects (vice caché) which the seller does not know about, then the buyer cannot claim damages. The immunity for hidden defects also applies to property eaten up by termites. But if the property is situated in a sensitive area believed to be susceptible to the presence of termites, the immunity applied to such hidden defects no longer applies to property damaged by termites unless the "parasitical state" of the apartment is attached as an Annex to the original Act of sale. People are being encouraged to spend money for an expert to conduct an examination, when the property has a chance of being damaged.

Expenses incurred for preventing and fighting against termites and other xylophagic insects are eligible for a tax deduction under the General Taxation Code. The deduction is limited to 20% of the expenses incurred and is included in the general deduction for major repairs and improvements.

Soleil d'Or and Bharat Natyam


Little ethnic groups trying to integrate into France. An association named Groupe de Réflexion Franco-Indien, started in 1990. Today, it sends out sixty circulars announcing an intellectual event. Thirty people, at least, show up. All it asks its floating members to provide is pre-stamped self-addressed envelops. How long can intellectual curiosity and co-ordination last without some monetary goal, without some recognition? "As long as we want to learn" says Lalita Badrinath. Along with her husband and a few others, she has organised intellectual conferences every month for nearly a decade. The speakers are often Indian, sometimes French, even other Europeans. The disciplines vary from the history of Physics in the Vedas to Communication to dance forms.

Last month, Sivaselvi Sarkar provided an introduction to Bharat Natyam, a classical dance form from Tamil Nadu. She is well-equipped to do so. Along with her husband, she runs the Soleil d'Or, a non-profit association for yoga and Indian culture. This includes Indian singing, massage, relaxation, gymnastics and dance. She explained Bharat Natyam, while Sylvie, of Indian origin, demonstrated the poses, and vice versa.

Bharat Natyam, one of the oldest Indian Classical Dance, was performed by Devadasis in the Temples, primarily in Tamil Nadu. Then, the Devadasis, servants of the gods, became Rajadasis, or servants of the kings, and eventually prostitutes. Dance as an institution started declining and well-to-do families stayed away. The resurgence of Bharat Natyam probably started towards the end of the Nineteenth century. Bharat Natyam is composed from 'bha' for bhava or emotional projection, 'ra' for raga or melody and 'ta' for tala or rhythm. Natyam means the art of dance.

The presentation started with the alphabets of the dance, moved into words and phrases, and slowly, evolved into little stories. Mudra, single handed gestures, were followed by Samyuta Hasta, double handed gestures. Then, Bhava, the spirit of expression, was explained, followed by the nine principal emotions and their permutations and combinations. Expressing these could be done physically, by literary or musical means, by the costumes and the decor and, above all, by the emotions. The dance, itself, is a series of gestures which explain the sequence of actions and emotions.

All these gestures and actions were codified by Bharat Muni, 3000 years ago, in the Natya Shastra, although modern interpreters do permit themselves a certain amount of interpretative variations. The variations are rarely spontaneous on-stage: they are conceived and practised before-hand. Compare these with the Therbligs of Frank and Lilianne Gilbreth (of the "Cheaper by the Dozen" fame): the basic actions used in time and motion studies, codified in the beginning of this century.