February 19th, 2014
05:50 PM ET

Paris getting creative with 'ghost stops'

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Last week, taxi drivers caused gridlock in the streets of Paris, protesting against competition from minicabs in the city.

Driving in Paris can be tricky at the best of times, almost anarchy at the worst of times. So the 1.5 billion Parisian commuters that ride the metro every year probably have the right idea.

The Paris metro opened in 1900 and has grown to 14 different lines and over 300 stations, covering almost 130 miles of track. As is true in many cities, some of the stops are no longer in service. Paris has seven "phantom stations," many of which were closed as far back as World War II.

But these "ghost stops" could soon be resurrected – a Parisian mayoral contest may give these deserted platforms a new raison d'être.

One top candidate for mayor has suggested turning unused stops like the one in the video, which closed in 1939, into a stunning art gallery, a concert hall, a nightclub, a restaurant and even a swimming pool. Not to be outdone, another candidate proposed redeveloping old rail tracks into outdoor gardens and green areas.

While the French might be having a tough time getting their private sector moving, they remain world class at public projects. We look forward to going underground and swimming in Paris soon.

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Topics: France • Last Look
January 22nd, 2014
05:02 PM ET

Protesting, French style

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Here in the United States, Congress’ approval ratings are near their lowest levels in history. Nearly half of those polled in the U.K. said they were angry at their nation’s politicians. There were riots last week near a Spanish political party headquarters. And protestors in Ukraine continue to call for the government to go…

It would seem that the whole world is tired of government!

Perhaps the most expressive protest came from Paris last week, where despite the French reputation for snooty and uninterested citizens, protests there have always been big and creative. Furniture barricades during 19th century rebellions famously depicted in Les Miserables come to mind. In more recent decades, farmers protested falling grain prices with tractors blocking the streets and by burning hay on the Champs Elysees.

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Topics: France • Last Look
France in 2014: Another annus horribilis for Hollande?
December 24th, 2013
10:50 AM ET

France in 2014: Another annus horribilis for Hollande?

By James Shields, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Shields is professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University in the U.K. He is the first winner of the American Political Science Association’s Stanley Hoffmann Award for his writing on French politics. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

How long is France’s presidential term? Five years. How long has President François Hollande been in office? Twenty months. By the laws of simple arithmetic, that should leave him three years and four months – fully two-thirds of his mandate – to pursue his reform agenda at the head of his Socialist administration.

But presidencies don’t operate according to the laws of simple arithmetic. “Can Hollande act anymore?” asked the influential left-leaning daily Le Monde in its front-page headline of October 29. The financial daily Les Echos was more pointed still, pronouncing “The end of Hollande’s five-year term” and declaring the president to have no prospect of proceeding with further reforms.

Though his full term of office and extensive powers remain constitutionally guaranteed, there are two reasons for this rush to bring the curtain down already on Hollande’s performance. The first reason lies in the dynamics of governing within fixed terms framed by elections. As the World Bank noted in its report, Doing Business 2007 – How to Reform, nearly 85 percent of economic reforms tend to take place within the first 15 months of a new government taking office. In other words, the time to implement ambitious reforms is at the start of a government’s term while its mandate is fresh, and before re-election and the temptation to play it safe become increasingly pronounced factors in government strategy.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • France
No easy answers in Central African Republic
December 9th, 2013
02:32 PM ET

No easy answers in Central African Republic

By Susanna Flood, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Susanna Flood is Amnesty International’s director of media. The views expressed are her own.

What do you say to a grieving widow whose two sons have just been killed and who has 15 grandchildren at home to look after?  How do you respond when the children with whom you have just been laughing and joking – who fled with their families to a rapidly growing camp for displaced people – tell you they are hungry and haven’t eaten for two days?  How should you feel when you watch a seething mass of humanity taking refuge in desperate conditions because they feel safer there than in their homes?  What should you say when a chill goes through you as you hear people, time and time again, blame the Muslims or the Christians for their plight?

There are no easy answers to these questions but this is the reality in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic today. Conditions are desperate. And people are very afraid.

Four days after an armed group launched a flash attack on Bangui, more than 60,000 people have taken refuge in various locations around the city. Many have fled to churches; similar reports are being received from mosques – though on a smaller scale. But the largest number has taken refuge around the airport, which is known to be secure because of the presence of French forces.

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Topics: Africa • France
Zakaria: Iran talks probably moved too fast
November 12th, 2013
11:48 AM ET

Zakaria: Iran talks probably moved too fast

CNN speaks with Fareed about the failure to reach a deal at the weekend over Iran's nuclear program, and why some countries are so opposed to an agreement. This is an edited version of the transcript.

So what is your take on all of this? The talks fell apart over the weekend. What's your take?

Well, remember, this was always going to be hard. The United States and Iran haven't talked since 1979. There hasn't been any kind of deal on the nuclear program for ten years. But it seemed to me what happened was they almost got too close too quickly.

There was a sense in which it seemed like the deal was going to happen and then a number of countries that have problems – Israel started lobbying from the outside without even knowing what was in the deal, and then, most centrally, France decided to break ranks. Very strange move, publicly breaking ranks. The French probably have a number of motives. It's always fun for the French to be anti- American and to distance themselves from the Americans.

They're also trying to signal to Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Gulf states that don't like Iran, that they are the tough guys here. Because France has a lot of commercial business, particularly arms business with Saudi Arabia. So there's a whole bunch of motives there. But I think it was largely because we got so close faster than anyone thought we would.

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Topics: France • Iran • Nuclear
What the French Revolution can teach China
August 9th, 2013
09:02 AM ET

What the French Revolution can teach China

By Ziad Haider, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ziad Haider is director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him @Asia_Hand. The views expressed are his own.

“Let China sleep; when she awakes, she will shake the world.” Uttered by Napoleon Bonaparte two centuries ago, these words now seem prescient. Yet pitfalls a plenty remain in China’s rise. Chief among these, of course, is the stability and legitimacy of one-party rule. But why has the Chinese leadership turned to another Frenchman, political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville? Why has his classic work The Old Regime and the Revolution become a best seller in China? And ultimately, what lessons can Beijing learn from the French Revolution?

Interest in China in Tocqueville and the revolution can be traced to the upper echelons of China’s highest leadership body, the Politburo’s Standing Committee. Vice Premier Wang Qishan, chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, is responsible for combating corruption in the party – a priority for China’s new leadership to shore up its standing after a string of scandals. Now, Tocqueville is featured in the bookstore of the Communist Party School where China’s leaders are trained, where his 1856 book is reportedly described as “recommended” by Wang Qishan.

So what lessons might Chinese officials draw from Tocqueville’s account of the revolution?

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Topics: China • France
Legacy of the ‘father’ of France’s modern extreme right
June 3rd, 2013
09:20 AM ET

Legacy of the ‘father’ of France’s modern extreme right

By James Shields, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Shields is professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University in the U.K. and the first winner of the American Political Science Association’s Stanley Hoffmann Award for his writing on French politics. The views expressed are his own.

As 4.00 pm struck on May 21, a man walked to the high altar in Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral, placed a sealed letter on it, then killed himself with a single pistol shot to the head. Such was the final act of Dominique Venner, a 78-year-old former far-right activist and leading ideologue. Prior to this gruesomely theatrical suicide, carried out while some 1,500 visitors milled around the cathedral, Venner’s was not a name that would have resonated much in French public consciousness. But in his day, he was one of the most notorious opponents of the French Republic, its core values of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” and its institutions.

Venner’s resume offers a tour through some of the most radical extreme right-wing political and intellectual circles in post-war France. The son of a militant pro-fascist father, he first came to prominence as an opponent of France’s return to democracy under the Fourth Republic and a diehard defender of French Algeria, engaging in violent activism and enlisting to fight as a volunteer paratrooper in the Algerian War. Having served a prison sentence for his role in the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) that waged a campaign of terror against President de Gaulle’s policy of Algerian self-determination, he went on to lead the ideological renewal of the French nationalist right in response to the new world order taking shape with decolonization and the Cold War in the 1960s.

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Topics: France • Politics
March 28th, 2013
02:42 AM ET

Do high taxes prompt millionaires to flee?

By Global Public Square staff

It's not every day you see Russia's Vladimir Putin receiving a bear hug from a Frenchman, but the actor, Gerard Depardieu is no ordinary Frenchman. In fact, he may not even remain French for very long in some sense.

You see, Depardieu has been threatening to give up his French passport, especially now that Putin has handed him a brand new Russian one. But why on Earth would he or anyone, for that matter, want to leave France? Think of the food, the wine, Paris, the countryside. Well, for Depardieu, it comes down to taxes.

Under President Francois Hollande, France has been weighing a proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on millionaires. Russia, on the other hand, offers a flat, 13 percent tax.

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Topics: Economy • France • Russia • What in the World?
February 14th, 2013
10:20 AM ET

Fashion crimes in Paris

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Did Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush break the law in Paris? Maybe, along with many others, because for more than 200 years it has actually technically been illegal for a woman to wear trousers in Paris unless official permission was granted.

It seems that during the French Revolution the lady revolutionaries took to wearing pants and the powers that be at the time wanted to put a swift end to that. So they made it illegal in 1800. Amendments came over the years allowing women to dare to wear trousers for riding bikes or horses. But the law remained on the books until last week, when it was repealed by the minister for women's rights.

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Topics: France
France needs more than force in Mali
January 16th, 2013
08:11 PM ET

France needs more than force in Mali

By Stephanie Pezard and Michael Shurkin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stephanie Pezard and Michael Shurkin are political scientists at the RAND Corporation. The views expressed are the authors’ own.

France’s unilateral ground and air offensive in Mali came not a moment too soon.  The Islamists who had seized control of the north launched a brazen offensive last week into central Mali that demonstrated their own considerable capabilities and audacity as well as the Malian army’s continuing fecklessness. France had to act. Unless it creates a coalition of local allies, however, its intervention will probably, ultimately, add to Mali’s chaos.

The French intervention achieves little more than pull Mali back from the brink for the time being. To achieve anything beyond protecting southern Mali from future incursions requires pushing north and deploying a much larger force –some combination of French, Malian, and ECOWAS troops. This would need to happen much faster than any of the timetables for an ECOWAS deployment that had been discussed at the United Nations.  Some ECOWAS contingents are already there.

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Topics: Africa • France
France in 2013: Living on borrowed time?
December 18th, 2012
04:32 PM ET

France in 2013: Living on borrowed time?

This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By James Shields, Special to CNN

James Shields is professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University in the U.K.He is the first winner of the American Political Science Association’s Stanley Hoffmann Award for his writing on French politics. The views expressed are his own.

While it could hardly be more eventful than 2012, with the toppling of a president and an emphatic swing of legislative power from right to left, 2013 could prove to be more decisive for France. As the electoral promises of the past year recede, they are replaced now by an urgent need to deliver.

The three biggest questions hanging over France in 2013 are a potentially hazardous mix of the political and the economic. How will President François Hollande and his Socialists square their election pledges with the hard choices of governing in economic crisis? How will the center-right UMP recover from its bitterly divisive contest to replace Nicolas Sarkozy as leader and face down mounting pressure from a resurgent far-right Front National? And, as a second credit rating agency downgrades France, can the world’s fifth-largest, and the Eurozone’s second-largest, economy bring its public finances into balance for the first time in almost four decades?

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • France
August 27th, 2012
09:39 AM ET

Does world want Romney or Obama?

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is the director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. Full survey results are available here. The views expressed are his own.

At the Republican National Convention scheduled to take place this week and the Democratic National Convention beginning September 3, Americans will notionally be choosing their candidates for president of the United States. Effectively they will be deciding who will be the leader of the world for the next four years.

The world’s citizens get no say in this choice. Nevertheless, people outside the United States have definite opinions about Obama and some of the key issues in the campaign: about the state of the economy and what to do about it, climate change and how they think Washington should treat them.

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Topics: Barack Obama • China • Elections • France • Japan • Mitt Romney • United States
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