FRANCE NOW 

French News in English 

Published by 

France Now Association
 

Editor: Arvind Ashta

Editorial Committee:

W. W. Strangmeyer,

Emmanuelle Ashta

Copyright

 

FRANCE NOW

(French news in English)

August 1999, Monthly, Issue No. 28

(Only highlighted issues available for on-line consultation)

  • The law relating to magistrates
  • The Parc de Choisy






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Constitutional Amendment on the equality of men and women

 


In developed countries, the percentage of women in the work-force is higher. When women go out to work, outside help is required to maintain the home, creating employment possibilities for new services, usually very labour-intensive. This is also partly the reason why the tertiary sector, specifically services, becomes more important in developed countries.

To encourage women to work, the government tries to ensure that they are provided equal opportunities, especially in terms of careers and remuneration. But employers are reluctant to treat women on par with men, partly for historical reasons (it used to be a man's world) and partly for biological (maternity leave) and sociological reasons (it may still be a man's world). In France, full-time working women receive a salary which is, on average, 13% lower than that of men. About 30% of women are in part-time jobs.

With increasing pressure (media and judicial rulings) to maintain equality, the large employers have been turning to the politicians: "What about you, how come we don't see women in politics?"

Political parties indicate the progress they have made. Slow, sure, but still far removed from equality. In this background, for some time, the Socialists have been trying to make appropriate legislative changes to boost the participation of women in politics. The Constitutional Council, by a 1982 decision, had however said that the existing constitution does not allow any positive discrimination in favour of men or women in matters relating to political representation. So, a constitutional amendment was required.

A clause each has been added in the third and fourth articles of the French constitution. Both these articles are in the first title of the constitution dealing with sovereignty.

The third article says that national sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it through their representatives and by way of referendum. No section of the people nor any individual can appropriate its exercise. The suffrage may be direct or indirect, under the conditions envisaged in the Constitution. Always, it is universal, equal and secret. All adult French people, of both sexes, with civil and political rights are electors, under the conditions determined by law.

This third article of the French Constitution will now contain a new clause: «The law favours equal access of men and women to electoral mandates and elected functions».

The fourth article specifies that political parties and groups compete for the expression of the suffrage. They have freedom to form and exercise their activity. They must respect the principles of national sovereignty and of democracy.

This fourth article will also have an additional clause: «They contribute to the application of the principle announced in the last clause of the third article under the conditions determined by law».

The constitutional revision has promoted equality of the sexes to a sovereign status. What about equality of religion, race and ethnic origin? These seem to be above even the sovereign question. Because they come in Article One, which is even before the first title dealing with sovereignty: «France is an indivisible, secular, social, democratic Republic. It ensures the equality before law of all its citizens without distinction of origin, race or religion. It respects all beliefs.»

So, what is the essential difference between placing the new modification in Articles 3 and 4 instead of a change in Article 1? If the change had been incorporated in Article 1, then France would be responsible for discrimination between men and women before any law. But in the way the government has modified the Constitution, the equal access of men and women is only to electoral mandates and elected functions. For this, the Constitution is conferring the responsibility only on political parties and groups.

Another law has also created a parliamentary delegation for the rights of women and for the equality of chances between men and women. This delegation follows up government action and its consequence on women's rights and for sexual equality. It can study and report on related questions.


Voynet blurs the map of France

The law relating to durable territorial development

 


Within the EU, how is France to manage its affairs? How are we to marry social economic and environmental objectives? The objective of Mme Voynet, the Minister for Territorial Development and Environment, is not just to reduce territorial inequalities, but also to simulate employment by creating a pact between local enterprises and their region. The question of territorial inequalities also poses the question of access to government services in remote areas. So, we require some form of equalisation. The law relating to durable territorial development ushers in a strategy of nodal development to boost economic growth for the country as a whole, combined with one of territorial grouping to boost local cooperation and reduce duplication of services for the rest of the country.

 

Nodal development

The right-wing government had already voted a law in 1995, visualising different outlines for different government services. It conceived of a system of nodal development of France's territory. The legislator wanted to ease the over-concentration, even congestion, of Paris in favour of cities all over France. The choice of the cities itself would depend on geographical factors related to international access and economic hinterlands. We would then link these cities into a network to allow rapid access within them and with the major European cities. The socialist government decided to modify this law to suit its objectives. The original law concentrated on the development and relocation of education, culture, sanitation, communication and transport. The new law expands the list to include energy, natural reserves, sports and remote regions.

To give an idea of the vision behind these outlines, it is proposed, for instance, to fix the centres of education which would be the banners of French specialisation in a field. These would then be given an international vocation, inviting international students and international research contracts. This in turn would give linkage effects. These leading universities or academic centres could then look internally at the other local universities for participation, when needed.

Similar nodes will be created for the development of sports centres with national and international vocations. These could be centres of training or exhibition grounds. The territory in which they are situated is supposed to coordinate between the different establishments concerned with local, economic, tourist and cultural development.

Communication technology (Internet) would develop access to works of all sorts to students located all over the country. The same technology could also spread tele-medicine. The integration of the telephone networks (pay-phone, mobile phones and fixed-phones) would also stimulate access to public services through tele-procedures.



Territorial grouping

A second part of the law creates new territorial groupings called land (pays) or conglomerations (agglomérations). In short, the new rural grouping is termed "pays" or "land" and the new urban grouping is termed "agglomération" or "conglomeration"

To form these new groupings, some sort of geographical, cultural, economic or social cohesion or homogeneity is required, in addition to being physically adjacent. The new "land" does not necessarily have to be located in one department. What confuses the issue further is that already, rural communes can liaise with each other to create intercommunes (public establishments of intercommunal cooperation) with their own taxes and fees. Such intercommunes would continue to exist side by side with the new "lands". So the new "lands" would blur the geographical limits set up by communes, inter-communes, departments, etc.. Similarly, the urban conglomerations would also change territorial boundaries. To qualify for the status of conglomeration, the area as a whole would need 50,000 inhabitants with at least one major town of 15,000 inhabitants.

Each land or conglomeration would try to plan its common development projects benefiting all the member-communes. This would reinforce inter-communal solidarity. For implementing the projects, the lands can set up autonomous public interest groups or a mixed syndicate.

Considering that the erstwhile departments were set up at the time of the French Revolution two centuries ago, it is only natural that the evolution of the country requires that the territorial limits be modified to take into account local evolutionary history. But till such time that the limits of the departments are themselves modified or the notion is scrapped, French regional studies will become a domain for experts.

Rationalising public services

The law is also sneaking in rationalisation of public services. The government has to provide services to all the communes. But if the communes group together, they can limit the centre of services in one of them. This would reduce the pressure on the government to provide essential services (eg. post) in each little commune. But elimination of any public services would first have to be officially "studied". Another option for reducing expenses is the multi-service centre where one or a few locally employed people provide many different public services. The government is willing to pay the concerned local government for its locale or personnel used.

The law also sneaks in a section reserving for the Post the registered mailings required for law. Considering the social objectives of the Post, it is obvious that the government wants to ensure a minimum of business to it.


Jean Glavany: Planting the seeds of agricultural policy

(reading between the lines of the law on Agricultural Orientation)

 


How is one to cultivate France? If it all belonged to one farmer, the State, how would he plant the seeds to harvest the maximum? This must be the question before Jean Glavany, the Minister of Agriculture and Fishing, as he tried to formulate the orientation for France's agricultural policy. Of course, the question of employment, farmers' income and that of EU subsidies must be the principal economic factors affecting the policy. But other important considerations like environment, bio-diversity, the nature of the regions, all complicated the issue.

For distribution purposes, it is more economical for large buyers to buy a product in one region and go to another for a different product. So, Mr. Glavany has to find homogeneous belts suitable for the cultivation of similar crops. If these belts traverse departmental or regional territories, the organisation becomes a little complex. So, Mr. Glavany wanted new regional concepts which would organise into homogeneous areas. What a coincidence that Mme Voynet was working along similar lines and had just developed the concept of "pays" or "land" where small rural areas can group together for economic development. Mr Glavany's agricultural orientation law annexes this concept for territorial development of agriculture.

One farmer can't cultivate France. Nor can Mr. Glavany supervise alone. This sombre realisation must have led Mr. Glavany to accept that some decentralisation is essential, even if only for control purposes. His supervisors are the Prefects who would organise the distribution of subsidies from the "Fund to Finance the Territorial Contracts" in return for conformity to territorial objectives. Government aid includes, subsidies, loans, reduced interest rates, and tax reductions or exonerations. The contract between the farmer and the State has been standardised. The farmer would have to fit his agricultural policy into that of the local territory to which his farm belongs. Of course, democracy requires that the plans of the territory are determined at the grass-roots and not imposed from the top. However, once the farmer has agreed to conform to the common territorial policy, he cannot stop without renouncing his subsidies. In an agricultural context where the main portion of the income is the subsidy, the farmer is essentially working for the State! Continuation of his subsidy and the appropriate controls ensure that he works in conformity with State objectives.

All the farmers being viewed as State employees, it is evident that the law regulates their status. It also has to consider the status of the spouse who works on the farm. It also examines the status of cooperatives. Having relegated the role of farmers to that of employees, It is also evident that the law examines thoroughly the question of their social security. And the law also looks at the question of training the farmers.

The territorial policy ensures that the kind and quantity of crops grown are in line with total demand. The supervisors have also to control the quality. For this, each region or territory would be given a label of origin. Evidently, if the product is good, consumers will ask for more fruit from that territory. A National Commission of Labels and Certification of Food and Agricultural Products provides the quality inspection and the certification of conformity.

Agricultural subsidies are essentially originating from the European Union. It is clear that the farmers are not just working for France but for Europe, and that the French law is probably just the application of European objectives to French particularities, keeping in mind French historical customs and laws.


Holiday Cheques

 


Since March 1982, the holiday cheques have been in existence. They now permit four million French people, about a million employees and their families, to travel on holidays, financed jointly by their savings, by the employer and by social organisations. Certain merchants also provide discounts to those who pay by holiday cheques. Moreover, once the family goes on holiday, it also spends on other services that are not included in the holiday cheque scheme. The ANCV ( Agence Nationale pour les Chèques-Vacances) estimates that FF 3 billion of the holiday cheques used in 1997 actually generated FF 10 billion of tourism consumption. Thus, the scheme aids the tourism industry, allowing the investment in this industry to be spread over more users. Besides, the tourism industry is then able to add jobs, especially in the 150,000 enterprises certified by the ANCV.

However, 40% of the French people don't go on holidays, mostly for financial reasons. So, the government would like to expand this scheme to the salaried employees of small enterprises (less than 50 employees) where there is no employees' union looking after their interests. Such enterprises employ about 7 million people, but only some three thousand obtain the holiday cheque benefit. The new law therefore extends this scheme to these employees.

The holiday cheques are provided to those earning low salaries. Part of the cheques is paid by the employees and part by the employers. The employers' contribution is not included for calculating the income tax base of the employee if the employee is earning a low salary and the advantage provided by the employer is not more than 30% of the monthly SMIC (France's minimum wage). The only social security to be paid on these allowances are the CSG* and the RDS*.

Why provide an advantage in this way? Why not just increase the income tax brackets and reduce social security charges for all employers up to 30% of one month's SMIC? Because, the government wants the money to be spent immediately and not to be saved. This provides a higher than normal value of the multiplier since the incremental income of the beneficiaries is entirely spent. Moreover, until now, the money was to be spent on tourism in France. So the entire first point effect was consumed in France and increased French income.

The latter advantage is likely to recede. This year's law allows the holiday cheques to be spent in other EU States. Still, there is a respite. Only certified organisations accept the cheques, and it will take time for non-French speaking small hotels and restaurants and shop owners to know of this facility of accepting payments and taking the trouble of registering themselves with the French authority. Of course, the big travel agencies and hotel chains stand to gain. Holiday cheques for the poor preserve the income to the rich. Good politics and good business.

* CSG = Contribution social généralisée

RDS = Remboursement de la dette sociale