Brussels rap for France as new Roma row erupts
President Francois Hollande has warned the Commission not to tell France how to modernise its frail economy but his finance minister Pierre Moscovici still sought to reassure Brussels, a day after presenting the French budget for 2014. “France has made a huge effort to restore its public finances, and this draft budget law is characterised by responsibility and prudent policy making,” Olli Rehn, the EU’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner told a joint news conference with Moscovici, waving a copy of the French budget. Rehn made no mention of Hollande’s pension reform plans, which do not raise the country’s retirement age as the Commission has demanded. Germany also wants to see the euro zone’s second largest economy address overspending. Brussels says Paris is not taking radical enough action to combat rising labour costs, a falling share of international export markets and an industrial decline, threatening a shock to its economy that would resonate through the 17-nation euro zone. France’s economic well-being is central to the health of the currency area, but the country’s pride in its status as a leading member of the European Union means it resists taking advice from EU institutions. The pension reform, among the most closely watched measures undertaken by Hollande since he took office in May 2012, aims to fill a hole in the pension system that could reach almost 21 billion euros ($28 billion) by 2020. Though Hollande’s reform will lengthen the number of years worked, it does not change the legal retirement age of 62 years for a full pension, which is one of the lowest in Europe. “NO CONSTRAINTS” In the shadow of the pension reform, Moscovici presented France’s 2014 budget to parliament on Wednesday. He plans 15 billion euros in savings to reach a deficit of 3.6 percent of economic output, which should allow Paris to bring the budget deficit to below the EU’s 3 percent ceiling in 2015. Under EU rules, sharpened at the peak of the debt crisis in late 2011, euro zone countries can face fines if they fail to meet deficit targets and risk damaging investor confidence. Moscovici was also keen to convince Rehn, who has new powers to check countries’ budgets, that France’s planned budget savings and economic forecasts are in line with its commitments. He also sought to play down any suggestion that France would not respect the Commission’s new monitoring powers. “Europe does not pose a constraint. Europe is not a problem.
France awards American writer Philip Roth Legion of Honour
“Free movement, like the freedom of residence, in another country are fundamental rights,” said Olivier Bailly, a spokesman for the EU’s executive arm, the sommission. The commission, however, stopped short of threatening Paris with sanctions, acknowledging that the government was within its rights to expel migrants who had not found work or other means of support after three months. As well as infuriating Brussels, Valls triggered an outcry from rights groups and some of his colleagues by saying any Roma not working should be “delivered back to the borders”, describing their way of life as “extremely different from ours,” and claiming they will never integrate into French society. The latter remark triggerd the ire of his cabinet colleague, Arnaud Montebourg, who pointedly alluded to Valls’ own status as the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrants. “A theory that such and such a person or such and such a people will never, ever be able to integrate just doesn’t stand up,” Montebourg said. “That’s what they said about the Italians, that’s what they said about the Spanish, it’s what they said about the Portuguese, and what they said about the Arabs. Decreeing in advance that it is impossible seems to me excessive and is worthy of being corrected.” Valls hit back: “I’ve got nothing to correct. My remarks only shock those who don’t know the subject.” He then repeated remarks that Amnesty International described as likely to “perpetuate stereotypes and encourage animosity” towards the 20,000 plus Roma currently living in France in makeshift camps. “The majority (of Roma) should be delivered back to the borders,” Valls said. “We are not here to welcome these people. I’d remind you of (former Socialist premier) Michel Rocard’s statement: It’s not France’s job to deal with the misery of the whole world.” Controversy over the issue is not new for Valls, a sharp-suited 51-year-old regarded as one of the stars of President Francois Hollande’s struggling administration. The commission has repeatedly questioned the legality of the government encouraging local councils to systematically dismantle illegal Roma camps and put the expelled residents on flights back to Bulgaria and Romania. The policy has also been criticized by the UN’s human rights arm. Roma organizations in France are threatening to bring a legal case against Valls for incitement to racial hatred and SOS Racisme, whose founder is now the Socialists’ party leader, said Wednesday his latest comments had “crossed a red line.” It is all water off a duck’s back to a ferociously ambitious, hugely energetic politician who appears to thrive on taking a stand against his own party’s stance. Polls repeatedly suggest Valls is among the most admired members of Hollande’s government with a cross-party appeal that has made him one of the early favourites to be the Left’s candidate in the 2017 presidential elections.
American Pastoral novelist Philip Roth at his home in Warren, Connecticut. Picture: AP Source: AP FRANCE has awarded the US writer Philip Roth its highest decoration, the Legion d’honneur (Legion of Honour), with the country’s foreign minister bestowing the award in New York. At a ceremony on Friday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, in the Big Apple for the United Nations General Assembly, praised Roth’s prolific career as one of the leading men of American letters. The distinction, first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to give recognition to civilians and soldiers, has five degrees and Roth, 80, was given the title of Commander. “This highest honour is a wonderful surprise,” Roth said. Then, speaking in French, he said that he was “absolutely delighted.” Fabius, describing Roth’s “huge success” in France, added: “France is giving you back what you have given to my country.” Roth achieved fame with his sexually explicit novel Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969, and is well known for mining the Jewish-American experience as source material for his work. He is the author of nearly 30 novels, including The Humbling (2009) about an aging actor and erotic desire, and Nemesis, framed on a 1944 polio epidemic, which was published came in 2010. Roth’s numerous US literary prizes include two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, three PEN/Faulkner awards, and the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for American Pastoral. Roth, who told French magazine in 2012 that he would no longer write fiction, said that he learned French when he was a teenager but has since forgotten most of it.
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