Displaying items by tag: France
France is in uncharted waters after President Emmanuel Macron lost his majority, with a large, shaky opposition bloc on the left and many more far-right lawmakers surging into the National Assembly. Just two months into his second five-year term, Macron has the narrowest majority in French political history and must govern through coalition-building. Marine Le Pen's strategy to turn her far-right party mainstream has succeeded, increasing its lawmakers almost tenfold and cementing the party's rise from fringe status to mainstream opposition. The largest opposition group can claim the privilege of chairing the National Assembly's finance committee - a strategic role because the committee's president sets the agenda, giving any opposition lawmaker determined to hamstring the majority a tool to do so. It also confers powers of inquiry, with access to tax and public spending documents usually off-limits. Marine Le Pen says she intends to lobby for this highly strategic post.
In Creteil, a communist, socialist, and conservative suburb of Paris, a song of reconciliation and unity is rising - and a message that is attracting people from diverse backgrounds. ‘I don't have to build a church; I have to build a place where people will be loved. Not trying to make them look like me, just love them, introduce them to God, and they will be changed by the Holy Spirit’, says French pastor Ivan Carluer, founder of Martin Luther King Church. He drew his inspiration from the civil rights leader's message of unconditional love. Carluer also had a dream to create a space where blacks, whites, and people of other racial backgrounds could come together and reflect the diversity of Paris. Carluer's dream is now a reality. ``We have 20% all black, 10% all white, 10% Asian, and 60% cannot be defined,’ he laughs. ‘Jesus' colour!’ MLK is now one of the country's largest evangelical churches, and Ivan is a rising figure in France's Protestant movement.
On 7 February President Macron travelled to Moscow and then to Kyiv, to meet the presidents of Russia and Ukraine and seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. At the same time, German chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Washington aiming to convince Joe Biden to trust him despite being wishy-washy on Russia. On 10 February Boris Johnson went to Brussels. In the week beginning 14 February, Scholz will meet Vladimir Putin himself. Despite Scholz’s doveish approach to Russia threatening European unity, France, Germany, and the US are still allies. Many believe the scenario of Macron keeping Scholz and Biden out of the loop on his talks with Putin and Zelensky is as unlikely as the German chancellor cutting a deal with Biden behind Macron’s back.
Studies are underway to find the precise characteristics of the latest Covid-19 variant, BA2. Accounting for over half of sequenced Omicron cases in 57 countries, it appears more transmissible than the original strain and more able to infect the vaccinated. BA2, nicknamed ‘Omicron's little brother’, was mentioned for the first time during a press conference on 20 January and is being scrutinised by scientists. It appears to have a growth advantage compared to the version of Omicron that has swept the globe. Analysis suggests it could be substantial, although there is a risk of over-estimating growth advantage in the early stages. What we know is that it is a growing proportion of cases. There are no precise data yet on its resistance to vaccines or the severity of the cases.
France and Britain have clashed repeatedly over migrants crossing the Channel, post-Brexit trade arrangements, the sale of submarines to Australia, and fishing territories. The fishing dispute has come to a head as France threatened the UK with a lawsuit unless a few dozen fishing licences are granted as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ before 10 December. The deadline expired without a breakthrough in talks, despite France's threat, and 104 French boats still lack licences to operate in British and Channel Island waters. Britain earlier denied discriminating against French boats, saying many of the vessels are unable to provide the paperwork required to qualify for a licence. ‘This is a technical process based on evidence rather than deadlines’, a UK government spokesman said. France's Europe minister Clement Beaune said, ‘If they stick to their guns, then we will ask the European Commission to begin a legal complaint’.
Days after 27 people drowned in the English Channel, the BBC discovered that smuggling gangs are still telling migrants it is safe to cross. One smuggler said that the drownings were a lie and that there was no danger in making the journey. The brutal journeys migrants make across the Channel are full of stories of crisis. Pray for the detection and removal of the guerrilla-style smuggling operations among the French dunes. Pray for authorities to have more compassion for the streams of soaking passengers washing ashore in Kent. Pray for this international criminal industry to be thwarted by even more sophisticated detection. Pray for an end to the supply of specially-made boats that refugees are packed into. New arrivals in French camps are given tips on how to find a people-smuggler. One young man from Afghanistan was told to look for ‘the Kurdish man’ hanging around during food distribution.
Pregnant women and three children were among 27 Kurds from Iraq and Iran who drowned trying to cross the Channel. Two male survivors are being treated for exhaustion and hypothermia in a Calais hospital. A criminal investigation has been opened; five men are suspected of direct involvement in the attempted crossing. The bodies were brought by boat and helicopter to Calais, where volunteers with local migrant aid associations lit candles and held aloft placards reading ‘How many more?’ Despite the terrible loss of life, crossings have continued. The next morning forty migrants were brought to Dover by a lifeboat. It is windy on the water and extremely cold, but the determination to get to the UK remains as strong as ever. Boris Johnson said that there are ‘difficulties’ persuading France ‘to do things in a way that the situation deserves’; it was clear French attempts to stop the migrant boats leaving ‘haven't been enough’.
A British trawler was seized by France and another fined, in fishing rights arguments. The French checks on UK trawlers overnight are not part of the range of retaliatory actions announced in the post-Brexit row. But there is no doubt it is a message of what is to come. From 2 November British and Channel Islands fishing boats will not be allowed to offload fish at French ports. There will be intensified controls at Calais and other entry points for UK trade by ferry and tunnel. The French authorities will conduct a ‘grève de zèle’ (punctiliously looking for violations) on fish and other imports which will create long tail-backs to remind British subjects of the costs of go-it-alone. The UK government said the threat of sanctions was ‘not what we would expect from a close ally and partner’. The boat owner said his fishing activity for scallops was ‘entirely legal’.
People-smuggling networks in migrant camps are slick and organised. It took little more than a week for Hamid to find a people-smuggler in Calais. Within a couple of days, he was hiding near the beach with 75 others, waiting to cross the Channel in a small inflatable boat. Over 18,000 people so far this year have crossed the twenty miles of sea between Britain and France in small boats. Despite significant investment on both sides of the Channel, that's more than double the number last year. France's northern coastline is covered with dunes, foliage and hundreds of old WW2 bunkers where migrants can hide. High-security fencing and surveillance cameras now successfully protect the ports and Eurotunnel terminal, but surveillance is difficult among forested dunes. Hamid’s crossing cost £2,500, on top of the £7,275 he had paid to leave Afghanistan and cross Europe to France.
A report has shown that the Church prioritised protecting the institution over victims who were urged to stay silent. The number of abused minors rises to an estimated 330,000 when including victims of people with other links to the Church, like Catholic schools and youth programmes. Between 2,900 and 3,200 abusers worked in the Catholic Church between 1950 and 2020, out of a total of 115,000 priests and other clerics. ‘The Church is the place where the prevalence of sexual violence is at its highest, other than in family and friend circles’, said the report, which found that children were also more likely to be abused within Church settings than in state-run schools or summer camps. This report follows similar ones from other countries.