|Photo by Alejandra Moral, prep by Anastasia Parquet|
Just imagine: you are starting your day at work when armed men burst into the room and start shooting everyone in sight. You are not armed, you are just doing your day job. You don’t stand a chance. You die.
It is all over the news and I must admit that I can’t help feeling a bit sad. Alstom, one of the biggest remaining industrial French companies, might be bought by General Electric. You could think that it is just another Corporate merger. Well, you would be wrong: we French believe that we are different, and as a result there is a last-minute twist in the plot: the French government isn’t pleased with the GE offer (I am unsure as to why, it all sounds like basic antiamericanism to me. Come on, let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?), and would like Siemens to make a counter offer, in order to create ‘a European champion’ -whatever this means-. They have even said that they would consider nationalising Alstom if need be. All of this might sound like it is happening very far from you, but, you see, as a young engineer, I used to work for Alstom. I was the project manager for the Rolling Stock of the Line 14 in Paris (Ah, memories!). In French, I would say that I have a pinching feeling in my heart (‘un pincement au coeur’). It is the end of an era. Yes, I must admit that I still love Alstom. Alstom is a matter of national pride. That said, things got a bit rough recently. Alstom was bleeding cash. Simply put, Alstom hasn’t restructured its business as it should to stay competitive. Things came to a head, and the only option was to find a buyer. And GE came.
I wouldn’t want to be a member of Alstom’s board right now. Basically, GE and Alstom have been talking for quite some time, and GE wants to buy the Power/Energy division of the French company. They have put a lot of cash on the table. To make matters even more complicated, one of Alstom’s main shareholders, Bouygues, badly needs to sell its participation to buy a telecommunication company. The French government disagrees with what it disingenuously calls ‘a shareholder’s approach’ -conveniently ignoring Alstom’s difficulties and massive overheads-. In theory, the government shouldn’t say anything, and shouldn’t interfere with private capital. In practice, our ministers are trying to revive a former offer from Siemens.
The thing is, if Siemens and Alstom were to merge, in the longer run there will be massive redundancy plans because the overlaps between both companies are simply everywhere, from the operational divisions to the headquarters. Siemens is a direct competitor in most markets. To top everything up, Siemens isn’t in that great a shape either (Can two companies in a difficult position make a healthy company? I am not so sure). Oh, and I am also convinced that the European antitrust laws would never allow for this merger to happen. So why is this debate happening at all?
I am worried for Alstom’s future, and for my former colleagues. The French government might manage to stop GE from buying Alstom. But where would it leave my former employer? Would it really save it? Well, quite the opposite: nobody will want to invest in Alstom. Alstom will become moribund, and it would be another blow to the ailing French economy. Foreign investments in France will drop too. In short, even if I can only follow what is happening from London, I fear that Alstom might become the latest victim of a misjudged French interventionism. I really hope to be proven wrong…
|A Country With So Much Going For It…|
In France, what do you do when things get rough? Well, you just reshuffle them a bit. Look at what happened in January when Francois Hollande was caught cheating on his current girlfriend. Well, he reshuffled his love life. He kicked his official girlfriend out, and kept the unofficial one.
I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to write on the ‘Hollande affair’ again, but something was still bugging me. Here it is: don’t you think that the way the actual President treats his partners is appalling? From where I am sitting, it looks like he considers his various girlfriends to be fungible commodities. To make matters even worse, Valerie Trierweiler, who was until recently acting as France’s first lady, has now been humiliated in a very public way. If this isn’t a repudiation, then I don’t know what is.
Am I the only one to think that Hollande’s behaviour shows a deeply machist mindset? Actually, it is not only machist, but also careless and cruel. If we leave aside any moral considerations for a minute, the age-old commandments of having an affair have been broken here:
1. Thou shalt remember that someone will get hurt;
2. Thou shalt be discreet;
3. Thou shalt remember the old adage ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it’;
4. Thou shalt not be cruel to your spouse/partner- after all, you are already cheating on him/her;
5. Thou shalt dress immaculately;
6. Thou shalt pay for your mistress’ accommodation;
7. Thou shalt own up to what you have done (especially if caught);
8. Thou shalt remember that you have put yourself in such a pickle in the first place;
9. Thou shalt consider yourself lucky to have such first-world problems;
10. Thou shalt try thinking with your head, for a change.
What happens now? Well, I don’t know, and I feel sorry for Valerie Trierweiler and her very public meltdown. Don’t get me wrong, I have never been one of her fans, but I wouldn’t wish what is happening to her to anyone. That said, I feel like Valerie could make the most of a really bad situation by pulling herself together (easier said than done, I know), looking fabulous (as she usually does, I must admit). She should then proceed to packing her suitcase, and come to London or New York. She could have a fresh start over here, and would probably become a star in a jiffy. She could publish books about the whole affair, have talk shows and live the high life.
And finally, I can’t help thinking that things would have been different with a female French president. A woman would have behaved in a more dignified and respectful way, I think. Please, let’s have more women in office!
It is going from very bad to even worse. All the social media networks are rife with rumors of pregnancy of Julie Gayet, the mistress of the French president. Despite yesterday’s news conference, we still don’t know whether Valerie Trierweiler (the First lady/girlfriend) will go to the USA with Francois Hollande in February. She is still in hospital. Why did she checked herself in? What will she do when she gets out? Nobody knows. What a soap opera!
Because of my article in The Times magazine, Sky News, ABC Australia and various other TV/radio have interviewed me. The publicity that I am receiving is possibly the only good thing to come out of ‘l’affaire Hollande’ and I am seriously wondering whether I should send him a Thank You card.
On a more serious note, this affair has highlighted the schism between my home country and the rest of the world. I was talking to my family over the weekend, and they didn’t understand why the foreign press was making such a big deal out of it.
” Why is Francois Hollande on the front page? After all, it is his private life. Why do you Brits even care?”, said my Dad. And, pragmatic as always, he added “It looks like his prostate problems are over.” It does indeed.
Over here, nobody understands why the French press and the French opposition are so lenient with Francois Hollande. Yesterday’s news conference didn’t clarify much, if anything at all. Difficult questions were asked after a much too long preliminary speech (playing the clock, Mister president?), and in a very polite and circumvoluted way (such as: were there any security lapses?). Francois Hollande’s responses remained general and at times patronising, and I couldn’t help but compare Hollande’s vague responses with Sarkozy’s frankness when he admitted to being in a serious relationship with Carla Bruni. Whatever you and I think of president Sarkozy, he clearly owned up to what was going on.
So, why doesn’t anyone care in France? Apparently, the whole affair might even have marginally increased president Hollande’s approval ratings, because it has made him look more human. This is also because, as we French have no king any more, the President is, I believe, implicitly expected to behave like one, and part of the job was to be the Father of the nation, right? Well, he quite clearly took his role very literally indeed.
Two things are worrying me right now: as a French woman living in London, I can clearly see that the French president is a laughing stock everywhere in the world except in France. This is hard to deny, right? Just look at the press everywhere (Look here if you don’t believe me). This is clearly not going to help my home country in the long run, as it makes us look like clowns at best and amateurs at worst. More importantly, when will the real issues be dealt with? Can we please get back to work? PLEASE!!!
First thing this morning, a couple of friends called me. They were all excited to tell me that the French president, Francois Hollande, is apparently having an affair with a French actress, Julie Gayet. It is all over the French press this morning. If you haven’t followed the whole saga, let me summarise (please concentrate, it is complicated): Francois Hollande has four children with Segolene Royal, but never married her. He might -or might not- have had an affair, and a child, with Anne Hidalgo, a fellow Socialist politician, while he was still with Royal. They (i.e. Royal & Hollande – Bear with me please) broke up in 2007 and the first lady/girlfriend/mistress (take your pick) is now supposed to be the journalist Valerie Trierweiler. Except that she seems to have been cuckolded. Did you follow? This whole story is not making my life any easier. “You see, said one of my friends, I always knew that French men were warm-blooded.” Damn it. Here we go again.
We started a heated debate on whether or not British politicians were as prone to affairs as their French counterparts. I personally believe that the British behave slightly better. My friends disagreed, and told me that the UK had had a fair share of recent sex scandals: look at David Blunkett’s affair with a married woman, Kimberly Fortier, Libdem politician Mark Oaten, and so on, and so forth. OK, point taken, power is an aphrodisiac. That said, most French politicians seem to rebound after a sex scandal. It even seems to enhance their CVs. That’s not really the case over here. Just saying.
Don’t get me wrong: what happens between consenting adults is none of my business (except if my husband was involved, to be perfectly honest). That said, I have to admit that I am intrigued: where do the politicians find the energy? How do they do it? Don’t they have 24 hours in a day, just like the rest of us? I am not the president of any country. I am just a blogger, a wife, and a mum. But believe me, my days are pretty full-on, and I never seem to be able to stop. I feel knackered most of the time, and right now I could kill for a lie-in (not of the naughty kind, to be precise). How do they do it? Don’t they have a job to do? Where did I go wrong? OK, I will admit it, I envy their energy (but not how they use it, just to be crystal clear).
The irony is that my home country is not going well at all: France is still lagging behind, hindered by lots of structural issues that are simply not being dealt with. This was reflected in Standard and Poor’s credit rating cuts at the start of November2013. Unemployment keeps rising (10.9% of the population according to the latest figures, an increase of 0.4% compared to last year), and the government’s only response seems to raise yet again already punitive taxes. In short, there is a lot to do, but right now the only indicator that seems to exceed expectations is the number of mistresses of the president.
So here is my suggestion to all French politicians: get your priorities right. Instead of screwing around, have your head screwed on and make the headlines for the right reasons. Tackle the recession and the growing number of unemployed. Please.