French News in English 

Published by France Now Association

Editor: Arvind Ashta

Editorial Committee:

W. W. Strangmeyer,

Emmanuelle Ashta




(French news in English)

January 2000, Monthly, Issue No. 33.

(Only highlighted issues available for on-line consultation)

A revised Foreword to FRANCE NOW

Codification by Ordinances under article 38

Why Corsica has to go


DSK: what are the issues?


Radio diffusion

The radio local loop

Powerful telecommunication operators

The 35 hour week

Xmas bonus to those on the doles

Year 2000: Leading To A Brave New World?



Social security ceiling goes up

National Calender for asking for donations for 2000

The way out

Patrice Vignot joins Im Media Res

Shares of Thomson CSF sold to Alcatel

EU expansion plans

Xavière Tiberi let off

RPR elections


Codification by Ordinances under article 38


Article 38 of the Constitution permits the government to take measures by ordinance that are normally a matter of a statute. The authorisation of the Parliament has to be requested beforehand and is granted for a limited period.

Ordinances are issued by the Council of Ministers, after consultation with the State Council (Conseil d'Etat). They come into force upon publication, but lapse if the bill to ratify them is not laid before Parliament before the date set by the enabling Act.

Once the limited authorised period expires, ordinances may be amended only by an Act of Parliament in those areas which are matters for a statute.

At the end of October, the Parliament passed a law giving the government the right to take measures by ordinance, to update the law relating to overseas departments (DOMs) and territories (TOMs) in the areas indicated in the box.

The draft ordinances are submitted to the assemblies, congress or the general council of the DOMs or the TOMs, as the case may be, for their opinion. In this case, the ordinances have to be passed within six months, i.e. by end-April, and within nine months, i.e. by end-July, bills have to be presented for ratification by the Parliament.

When the Parliament ratifies these ordinances, a law is passed and the subject matter of the ordinance becomes permanent. Often, the Parliament just ratifies the entire ordinance or a group of ordinances with little or no modifications. On the 9th of December, a law ratified six ordinances, all relating to overseas territories and departments. Only one article was deleted from one of the ordinances. Perhaps this is in keeping with the lack of interest that mostly mainland deputies and senators have with remote territories.

The problem gets complicated when the laws to be adopted concern the mainland. Then, suddenly, everyone is interested. The government wanted a law by which it could update by ordinance nine different codes (eg., rural, public health, education, commerce) to incorporate all the laws passed till the date of the ordinance. Of course, the ordinance would be temporary and would later have to be approved by a law. As background information, it may be interesting to note that currently there are about 8,000 laws and about 90,000 regulatory texts in force. The ordinary citizen is hardly in a position to know which norms are hierarchically superceding others. Only the specialists are aware of this. So there is no real equality before law. Organising the diverse dispositions of laws into thematic codes simplifies the access to a legal question for the ordinary citizen. The government's program envisaged overhauling eighteen of the existing codes and adding twenty-two new ones by 2000.

The major question is who is to codify? On one hand, Parliament does not have the time. Especially because, normally, the codification does not really change the law, and as such it does not have priority. Moreover, in a dynamic legislative environment, while the Parlaiment is examining the code, new laws are being passed and the code would get obsolete even before it is adopted. On the other hand, if an administrative body codifies law, it does not have the power to intervene into the domain of Parliament, who alone, normally, can pass laws. So, codification by decree is actually not totally legal since it may violate some laws or be forced to include laws which should have been repealed. The government therefore wanted to modify the code by ordinance and get the parliament to ratify its work on codification of the legislative part of laws.

Surely enough, sixty deputies appealed aginst the bill to the Conseil Constitutionnel, France's constitutional watchdog, protesting against the validity of the law. Later, one deputy (Pierre Albertini) wanted to backtrack because he was confused about the purpose of the appeal, but the Constitutional Council felt that there had been no fraud in obtaining the signature and that once the Council has been correctly appealed to, it must proceed to examine the law and pronounce a decision.

What the deputies felt was that in codifying the laws, the government would automatically repeal some laws by not including them. These would include laws which were implicitly repealed by a treaty, notably the European Union treaty. The government would also repeal obsolete laws by not including them in the code. The government could also exclude the regulatory parts of statutes from the legislative parts. The Conseil Constitutional pronounced that the government would have to act constitutionally and that adopting the laws for codification by ordinance was not unconstitutional since article 38 does not exclude any legislative object. What the deputies did not state in their appeal is the real political problem. The problem would be that, in the end, the government and its lawyers would know the laws better than the opposition because the former would know what they have done. The opposition, and their lawyers, would have to study the whole code to determine what changes have been made before ascertaining their impact on vested business interests. For months, the government and its supporters would have a business advantage over its political opponents.

The deputies also would not have the possibility of singling out objectionable matters of the amended codes when the ordinance came up for legislation, because the amended code would not be annexed to the bill for transforming the ordinance into law. The Constitutional Council pronounced that the deputies could always modify the code later by initiating amending laws. But it would be only after the code becomes law, and after it is published, that the deputies would really have time to start examining the code. By the time an amending bill is formulated and passed, the political advantage to the government could be immense.

The objecting deputies also indicated the possiblility that EU directives would be adopted into the code without a transforming law. The Constitutional Council indicated that they would not. But the government did mention that the codification would include removal of laws which contradict the EU dictates and directives. This means that French laws do not have to be repealed in public to the embarrassment of all and the overt indignation of the nationalists. They will just be removed from the code.


Why Corsica has to go


In the heart of Europe, or at least on its outskirts, violence continues. North Ireland, the Basque country and Corsica are probably the most striking examples. But Scotland too wants its independence. The North of Italy would like to stop paying for the South. More and more, regional separationist issues are coming up for discussion.

Till recently, all these issues were suppressed with an iron political hand. Large businesses cared little for the separationist sentiments of their "federated" regions. The large market with common legal rules simplified their sales and commercial policy and it was obvious that politicians were mandated on their ability to maintain the large States from breaking up into small isolated markets requiring the maintaining of an expensive fleet of legal offices.

What has changed is the forming of the European Union. Since the EU promises free movement of goods and capital within its borders, there is suddenly no need for English businessmen to turn to Tony Blair to ensure access to Scottish markets. EU is already insuring this. So, open debate is permitted to allow the Scots to be independent within Europe.

The same is probably true of Corsica. However, it would be embarrassing to explain this logic to sixty million French people habituated to thinking of the land of the 250,000 Corsicans as theirs. Sixty million people who are used to Corsicans coming and working amidst them for economic reasons in winter and going home for the summer tourist season.

But once Corsica agrees to remain within EU, there is no commercial validation for keeping it within France. So, Corsican violence is tolerated and will be till public opinion manifests itself clearly. Either the majority of Corsicans will get rid of the minority demanding independence or the majority of Frenchmen will see the futility of dominating a pain in France's geographical backside. Especially when they feel they are paying FF 12,000 a year per Corsican to retain this island in terms of maintaining uneconomical ferry services and tax exemptions.

Politically too, it makes sense for a young and growing Europe to want more political power at the centre. For this, it is evident that the strong nation-States should be weakened. What better way then splitting them into smaller political units, within the common legal commercial framework of EU? Not only that, as far as possible, EU would like to blur old regional demarcations and associated loyalties and create new ones that it alone controls.

If Corsica goes, it would not be because Corsicans have been demanding independence, something they have been demanding violently for centuries from Genoa before France took over in 1768. After two centuries of integration, the GDP of Corsica at 21 billion Francs works out to barely FF 84000 per capita per year or FF 7000 per month, about 60% of the French average which is around FF 140,000 per year or FF 12,000 per month. (Of course, such regional GDP figures have to be treated with caution because some quote a Corsican GDP of 106,000 per year, almost FF 9,000 per month, practically 75% of French GDP per person!). Moreover, whatever ferries France is paying for will probably be maintained by EU if Corsica becomes independent within the EU framework. If tax exemptions are maintained and EU subsidies are maintained, why should Corsica want to stay in France? But all this doesn't mean that Corsica will leave of its own sweet will.

No, if Corsica goes, it will be because France is allowing it to go, knowing fully well there is nowhere to go. French businesses know that EU promises free access of their goods to Corsican markets and the source of cheap Corsican labour would continue. France too would benefit because the cost of maintaining ferries would be borne by the EU. At the same time, the EU would encourage Corsica to go, remaining within its fold, willing to incur the extra expense because it is only a transfer payment which is being made by a member State anyway.

Yet, one can see the hesitation as Jospin tries to buy out Corsicans with more redistributive aid, because the nationalist in him has not died. The pride of being masters is indeed difficult to bear.

This logic of independent States within EU to resolve conflicts is currently being used to resolve the Cyprus issue, which would be easier if Turkey becomes a member of the EU. The North Ireland issue is also being resolved in the same way.




Here's a description of a catastrophe:

"Termed as one of the most devastating human disasters ever experienced, Orissa has been completely shattered by the worst-ever cyclones of the present century. Little did the people in the coast know that the frenzied storm would bring their lives to an absolute halt at once. On the early hours of the 29th October, Black Friday, as it will always be known from now, a massive and merciless cyclonic storm hit the coastal belt of Orissa killing thousands and displacing millions as if settling a long-standing score with the hapless creatures of the coast. Wind blew at an unbelievable velocity of 250-260 km per hour and the turbulent sea rising up to 5-8 metres high with accompanying continuous rain swept lakhs of houses out of existence. Such was the fury of nature that nothing except lifeless concrete structures have survived. Children lost their mothers and, not to talk about food, the adults are constantly looking up for the never-reaching food packets. Cattle have died in thousands and other animal casualties are unthinkable. It is a strange site where the dead and the alive await their respective destinies. The aerial survey says that the coastal Orissa from Puri to Balasore has become an extended Bay of Bengal threatening much more casualties in days to come. With unstoppable and painful human cries and yells, decomposed corpses of human and animals, the coastal districts have turned into a graveyard. Eye witnesses confess that if there is hell anywhere, it is thisit is this."1

Here are a few paragraphs of recent news on how the country respnded to the situation:

After a brief swearing-in ceremony, Hemanand Biswal directed senior officials to quickly distribute plastic sheets and blankets to the 2.5 million homeless people still camping out in 10 coastal districts battered in the October 29 cyclone.

Biswal replaced Giridhar Gamang as chief minister of the southeastern Indian state. The Congress fired Gamang on Sunday for his slow response to the devastating cyclone that killed nearly 10,000 people and destroyed thousands of mud and thatch huts. The government's relief efforts have drawn widespread criticism.

S.B. Mishra, the state's highest civil servant, admitted the administration had distributed only 100,000 blankets so far - grossly inadequate for the number of people affected. He said the government was ordering two million blankets and hoped to distribute them among the homeless by December 31.

The state administration has complained that it received only a fraction of the funds it requested from the federal government for relief work. So far, Orissa has received only $116 million. It requested $1.6 billion, Mishra said.

In short, a catastrophe followed by inability.

After ten thousand people had been killed in an earthquake in Turkey in the middle of 1999, another thousand were killed in a second earthquake on the 12th of Novemeber. Here's an internet news report on the relief measures:

On Sunday 21st November, two cars full of donated clothes, food, blankets and a tent for the survivors of last weeks earthquake drove from Ankara to Kaynasli, to find urgent need and a lack of organised help.

On Sunday 6th December three more cars and a van returned to deliver further supplies. However, the lack of organization found on the first trip had been replaced by an equally frustrating form of organisation.

After indicating that the 20,000 odd deaths were reported from the Venezuelan catastrophe last month, lets take a look at France :

Last November's floods in the Midi, costing about FF 3 billion ($500 million) to insurers, are the biggest catastrophe in the last few years. Three departments in the South of France (Aude, Pyrénées-Orientales and Tarn) were ravaged by floods, causing 24 deaths. The insurance estimates cover only the loss to private property. Damage to public property is not included.

The late-December cyclonic activity resulted in eighty deaths in France and a few more in Europe. 10,000 trees were uprooted in Versailles, a million in Ile-de-France, about a tenth of the total tree population. Three million homes, about a fifth of French homes, were rendered without electricity. Within a few days, electricity was restored to tow and a half million homes.

Notice how the number of human deaths is inversely proportional to the development of the country, and how development affects the speed of response to a catastrophe. "Not really" says Alan Crosthwaite, the notable musician, who turned up at last month's Breakfast Club, "because the scale of the catastrophes was not the same". True. But the financial assistance offered for the small French catastrophe was many times that available for the large Indian one. For this, a nice word, for once, may be said for the French private insurance system which, it is hoped, will indemnify those covered within three months.

At times like this, we are reminded how fortunate we are that we are living in France Now.

We also wonder what we can do for less fortunate souls.

1. A paragraph from a report prepared by The Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission.



Erika, a Maltese tanker, loaded with diesel oil, broke in two pieces off the coast of Brittany. It was on its way from France to Italy. The 12,000 tons of oil in the ocean have caused havoc to fishing in the region. All the 26 crew members were rescued. Over a billion francs will be spent to clean up the oil slick and save the ocean life and the livelihood of some thousand people.


Radio diffusion


The frequency (expressed in Hertz denoted by Hz or thousands of Hertz, Kilo Hertz, denoted by kHz, or millions of Hertz, Mega Hertz, denoted by MHz) of a radio wave is directly related to the speed at which the signal is transmitted and inversely to the length of the sound wave used. For the same transmitting speeds (300,000 km/s), a low frequency (0.1 to 0.375 MHz) implies long waves (800m. To 100 m) and a high frequency (0,375 to 3 MHz) imply small waves ( 800m to 100 m). The longer the wave, the bigger the receptacle to receive it. So, for a given sized receiver, the higher the frequency (and smaller the wave), the clearer the signal is. For radio-telecommunications, one therefore needs very small waves (100m to 10 m) and very high frequencies (3 to 30 MHz). For televisions, the relatively small antenna on the roof tops necessitates even smaller waves (10 m to 1 m) and even higher frequencies (30 to 300 MHz.). For radar television, where there is no antenna, these signals have to be even smaller (1 to 0.1 m) at higher frequencies (300 MHz to 3000 MHz). France Telecom also uses the band of 160 MHz and 450 MHz to access remote telephone subscribers (islands, coastal areas, mountains). France Telecom, SFR and Kapt'Acquitaine use bands between 860 and 900 MHz for cellular mobile telephones. For satellite signals and domestic portable telephones, where the instrument is tiny, the frequencies are between 1000 and 30000 MHz, corresponding to very small waves lengths (10 cm to 1 cm). In fact, one speaks of Giga Hertz (3 GHz to 30 GHz). Each Giga Hertz is a thousand Mega Hertz.

The whole spectrum of waves and radio frequencies from 9 KHz to 400 GHz is shared between 37 different kinds of civil and military radio telecommunications, whether ground or spatial. The broad categories include fixed, mobile, maritime, satellite, aeronautic, radars, radio-meteorology and radio-diffusion.

A distinction must be made between exclusive frequency allocation systems (most point-to-multipoint systems, GSM and DCS 1800) and frequency sharing systems (DECT, CT2 and CDMA spectrum dispersion technologies). The number of operators in the case of exclusive frequency allocation systems must generally be fixed, since the band which can be allocated is divided up into blocks of frequencies allocated to each operator. In the case of systems with dynamic frequency sharing, it is not technically necessary to determine the number of operators beforehand since the whole of the available band can be shared by all the operators. However, the regulatory body may have to limit the number of operators, even for these systems, in order to maintain the quality of the service offered. The size of the potential market may also be considered a reason for limiting the number of licences when there is a shortage of resources.

Digital Auto Broadcasting (DAB) is a sound diffusion system permitting about ten programmes to be transmitted within a band of 1 MHz, using a very large number of supporting waves modulated by numeric signals. This allows protection from interference and jamming and leads to excellent listening quality, similar to that of CDs. Usually, frequencies of about 1.5 GHz are used. Unlike FM stations, where each radio is licenced within a band of frequencies, in DAB eight or ten operators could share a band. This means that there must be some entente between the operators. It also means that receivers have the necessary modulators, costing around FF 8,000 each.


The radio local loop


Today, the possibility of using radio links to provide the last subscriber access segment is considered to be a key factor in the development of telecommunications, especially for the development of multimedia services and the introduction of new services in the microwave high-frequency segment.

The radio local loop traditionally consists of pairs of copper wires, either underground or over ground, to receive radio signals. These copper wires are then connected to a radio post. Historically, the use of radio to connect telephone subscribers is almost exclusively reserved for homes which are either in remote areas or of difficult access. More recently, the radio local loop has been used in countries with a low telephone penetration rate to provide a telephone infrastructure and service both rapidly and at lower cost. Today, manufacturers offer a highly diversified supply of radio local loop equipment, which can be broken down into several main families: fixed radio access systems, point-to-point or point-to-multipoint systems, "wireless" systems and cellular systems.

Using radio for telephones is a way of stimulating the introduction of competition. Radio technologies can be considered by new entrants as a way of competing with the historical operator in order to gain access to the subscriber without having to first bear the cost of investing in wire networks. Radio solutions make it simpler to plan the distribution network because it is not usually necessary to know the exact location of current subscribers and, more especially, future clients. By subsequently adding antennae, the operator can increase both the capacity of the network and its coverage, according to demand, which allows for more gradual investment, based on the number of subscribers, than in the case of a wire solution. The use of radio infrastructures should therefore make it possible to set up networks at a lower cost and more rapidly than in the case of wire infrastructures.

To promote competition, some have suggested that France Telecom should be kept out from certain markets, particularly that of the radio local loop, or delayed from entering them. The delay can be as long as new entrants have not acquired a significant share of the market, or for a determined period of time.

However, unfortunately for the proponents of these views, France Telecom already operates a number of radio local loop systems in several frequency bands - VHF (150 MHz), UHF (450 MHz) and 1.4 GHz. - as part of the public network. At present, France Telecom has access to virtually all frequencies above 1.8 GHz available for telecommunications. Article 17 of the Law of 2nd July 1990 relating to organisation of the public post and telecommunications service, gives France Telecom automatic use of the frequencies to which it had access prior to that date. It is probable that radio local loop technologies will develop in frequencies to which France Telecom alone has access at present.

At the same time, the radio local loop can contribute to decreasing the cost of the universal service in certain geographical areas. Network installation and maintenance costs based on radio technologies seem to be lower than those required for wire networks, particularly in geographical areas with a low population density. The telecommunications bill specifies that France Telecom is the public operator responsible for the universal service. Since the net cost of these obligations is to be financed by all the operators, it would seem to be in the general interest that France Telecom be able to use the least expensive technical solutions, including the radio local loop, to meet these obligations. Deutsche Telecom in Germany and British Telecom in the UK have been allowed access to this technology.

After experimenting with the radio local loop since April 1998, the government decided that the most favourable frequency waves for developing the radio local loop system would be the 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz frequencies. End November, the government invited applications to allot three slots in the frequency bands around 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz. Two national network operators would be selected for the entire mainland territory in these two bands; two local network operators would be selected in the 26 GHz band for each of France's regions; and two local operators would be selected in the 3.5 GHz for each of France's overseas departments. The licences would be granted for fifteen years and would be renewable. The operator would be informed two years before the expiry date if his licence is being renewed or not.

The completed application forms, with details of project reports, have to be tendered by end-January 2000. The selection of the candidate is based, in order of importance, on the capacity to stimulate competition in the local loop for the benefit of users, projected speed and extent of the spread of the local loop over the designated area, the overall credibility of the project report, contribution to the development of the information society, optimum use of the spectrum, and, finally, contribution to employment and to environmental protection.

In the meantime, those who were granted the right to experiment (Infotel, FirstMark Communications France, Forums Communications France, Skyline) can continue their services till they or new operators are authorised. Sagem and Alcatel have also been attributed frequencies for testing their instruments during this experimental phase and can continue to do so till the new authorisations are delivered.


Powerful telecommunication operators


In 1997, the EU directed that to ensure a universal telephone service, "powerful" telephone operators have to accept all requests for connexion to their network at transparent standard rates. A telecommunications operator is considered "powerful" in his market if he holds more than 25% of the market in a geographical zone of a member State of the European Union. The EU identifies three kinds of telecommunications activities: fixed public telephone networks, rented lines, and the mobile public telephone networks. Powerful operators in the former two sectors have to base their prices on costs even if they are powerful only locally. But mobile telephone operators have to base their pricing on costs only if they are "powerful" for interconnections on a national level.

The ART (Autorité de régulation des télécommunications) found that for 1998 and 1999, France Telecom had more than 90% of the retail market for fixed telephone networks and for rented lines.

For mobile telephones, the new operators have had greater success. On the basis of number of subscribers, France Telecom Mobiles still has 45% of the market, but SFR has managed to obtain 35%. On the basis of total time used, both these operators have a part greater than 40% each.

All these operators have therefore to be accessible to requests for connexion. But France Telecom also has to base its pricing on costs.

As far as national interconnections is concerned, the analysis is far more complicated because it concerns the use of fixed lines by mobiles and vice-versa.

In terms of volume, France Telecom has more than 90% of the fixed telephone interconnections. In value terms however, its share was 45% for 1998 and barely 30% for 1999 because, mobile communications are increasing and because the interconnection price is much lower for fixed telephones than for mobile ones.

But each of France Telecom Mobiles and SFR have remained below the 25% of the national interconnection market for 1998. In 1999, however, their share exceeded 25%. Bouygues Telephone, the third major mobile operator also managed to have 15%.

As a result of this analysis, and after considering various complementary factors, the ART decided that France Telecom Mobiles and SFR were both "powerful" in the national interconnection market and, therefore, their pricing should also be based on their costs. Nevertheless, the ART noted that if the leaders had lower costs than Bouygues Telecom, cost-based pricing would imply that they lower their prices and this would result in Bouygues being forced into competitive prices, losses and, eventually, would have to opt out of the market. Therefore, J-M Hubert, President of the ART, has warned that the measure should be dosed appropriately to meet EU norms but restrained to allow Bouygues a chance to continue. In other words, the customer has to pay extra to allow Bouygues to remain in the market so that there is more competition, which should benefit the customer.


Shares of Thomson CSF sold to Alcatel


For some time now, the government has been devising different plans and reorganisations of the large French enterprises in the sensitive defence and high technology industries, such as Aerospatiale, Alcatel, Dassault Industrues, Thomson CSF, Thomson SA, Matra Haute Technologies, Framatone and SOGEPA. These enterprises are critical to the France's future economic prospects, especially with the incoming of internal competition within EU States. Till recently, France could directly aid these industries: the case of the different Thomson companies is now legendary. However, with EU wanting to be the sole source of subsidies for industries, it is important to find other ways to increase French competivity in strategic industries. One of the key strategies is reorganisation to avoid duplication of costs and to take advantage of synergies.

Within this overall framework, 15,850,628 shares of Thomson CSF held by the government are now being sold to Alcatel. The official order dt. 16th Decemeber states that the price would be 36 Euros each, (with no mention of the equivalent in French Francs). Alcatel had taken a 16% share of Thomson CSF during the 1998 privatisaton of the latter. Now, another 9% is being given to Alcatel, raising its total to 25%. At the same time, Alcatel is getting out of Framatone and ceding its shareholding to the French State.

Thosmon CSF is a major enterprise in professional electronics with a 1998 turnover of FF 40 billion. It made a loss of FF 1.5 billion. It has 49,000 employees. It is the fourth largest in the world in the field of military electronics. Its activities include airport systems, aviation systems, communication systems, information services, optronics, air security systems, missiles, tubes and components. Civil electronics now make up 43% of its business. 70% of its turnover is exports.

Alcatel is a world leader for telecommunication systems and equipment. Its1998 turnover was FF 139 billion, with a profit of FF 15 billion. It has 118,000 employees. Its activities are in telecommunication networks, telephone exchanges, cables, internet and optics, and components. Alcatel and Thomson CSF have already a joint venture Alcatel Space, where they are getting synergies in spatial research.