Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cold shower times for French taxpayers.

The latest cold shower for French taxpayers: 245,722€. That's the cost for the installation in the Grand Palais on the occasion of the July 2008 Mediterranean Summit of a temporary presidential space (8 offices) with "douche attenante" (a shower equipped with radio, a seat and various "fonctions jet" for the exclusive use of the president). These revelations have made headlines across Europe (see for e.g. article in regional newspaper Le Telegramme and the Guardian).
In France the controversy of "la douche" - the "shower-gate"- came shortly after the "Défense-gate", namely the candidacy - and very near election - of the president's 23-year-old son to the directorhip of the body responsible for managing the Paris business district. The blatant act of cronyism was prevented at the last hour by a massive public outcry leading the young man to withdraw his candidacy (the famous Arche, right). A photo of the now equally fameuse douche here.

C'est la crise but nothing can possibly get in the way of the grandeur de la France and its rayonnement in its own backyard, the Mediterranean basin. The real scandal of course is not the shower itself but the extravagant cost (€16 million) of a summit which yielded little result. According to the Cour des Comptes report, the dinner held for heads of states had a price tag of €5,000 per person. A hearty menu in times of crisis.... And the kind of state cuisine many families who struggle every day to put food sur la table will find very hard to stomach.

Our nomemklature is unrepentent and trumpets that the French EU presidency was a resounding success. History will be the judge but what's very real for now is that it was the most expensive on record (€171 million). Perhaps we should rejoice about this gold medal in state budget management. The new one-man EU European Council presidency , argued a député, would cost less. Some comfort to the citoyens who were not even given a chance to vote on the Lisbon Treaty! (Someone else here believes that its implementation could rein in EU spending, a federalist...).

In the meantime, the sécurité sociale is in the red - €23 billion - and the deficit de l'Etat has hit the €1500 billion mark. French agriculture is en crise (again). A few days after the Commission allocates an emergency aid package to European milk producers (€280 million), President Sarkozy goes on a populist shopping spree promising more central planning, more regulation and of course more "support" - state aid is naturally forbidden - (€1 billion in low-interests loans and €650 million in direct aid). "Not enough" says the largest syndicate, what's needed is the state regulation of retail prices. Since French agriculture is being "sovietised", closing down the Commissariat général du Plan in 2006 was clearly a mistake. Just like in Soviet times' l'Etat and l'élite continue to over-spend in order to sustain a system "that will be for ever", le modèle français....

La petite histoire will remember that the shower was in fact never used. The mot de la fin must go to Hugo Chavez , a grand admirateur no doubt of France's leadership to make the world a greener place - or was it redder? "We are not in times of Jacuzzi" said he, urging his compatriots to save water (Newsweek, 2 Nov. 2009). Somebody in the Palais de l'Elysée must have heard the call. In France we are in shower times. Mostly cold ones....

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