My french chronicles (7): Grapes, coyotes, shantytown and ferryboats

Vignoble-BeauneI don’t know if it’s El Niño’s fault but it’s been hot around here for the past few days. Good weather for the grapes here in Southern Burgundy, at the same time as the UNESCO includes the Burgundy wine-making area (so-called “Climats de Bourgogne”) in its world heritage listing. This could boost wine tourism in the area, though at what cost I don’t know.

As described on the blog, “Particular to Burgundy,  the term ‘‘climat’ designates a parcel of land dedicated to a precisely delimited vineyard, known by that name for hundreds of years, and therefore a precise plot, soil, subsoil, exposure, microclimate, and forming together within a vineyard characters that constitute a personality, unique to one terroir and one cru.  These climats have created an exceptional mosaic of vineyards with a hierarchy of crus and an international reputation.”

Exactly. Cheers! But we might have to get used to the idea of wine being the last thing in France worthy of international reputation, given the dismal showing of French politics everywhere else. This week the French governement refused political asylum for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, currently locked-up by Britain since 2012 in the Embassy of Equator in London. The idea of granting asylum to Assange and Snowden was floated by Jean-Pierre Mignard, lawyer and pal of President François Hollande, following recent revelations of NSA spying on French leaders.

If only as a matter of honour and diplomatic reciprocity, letting the USA know that this spying is not acceptable by putting these whistle-blowers out of purgatory and under french security would be the obvious thing to do, and the idea was supported by a number of politicians and intellectuals across the political spectrum. Assange himself wrote an open letter to that effect in Le Monde on July 3rd.

AssangeAlas, moral decrepitude and cowardice of the french leadership led to a definitive “no way” barely an hour after publication of Assange’s letter. No way was the self-proclaimed world leader of Human Rights do anything to help private people who are risking their lives for denouncing unacceptable acts. What more do they need? We are being “led” by an absolutely despicable bunch of coyotes who’s wet-dream heroes are a mix of G.W. Bush and Causescu.

A sign of the times: following the vote on June 9th by the Senate in favour of the french law allowing unrestricted surveillance of french citizens by the State, a tweet from the Ministry of Culture to honour the 66th anniversary of Orwell’s 1984… was deleted. I’m not even sure that’s funny.

364502_France-migrants-CalaisStill on huamitarian matters, the ongoing saga of migrants piling up in Calais trying to get to the UK has come to a new chapter with the implication of four NGO’s on the site, organisations which you normally find in war or natural disaster zones, not on the beaches of Northern France. But here they are, coming in after the french government “opened” a shantytown on the outskirts of Calais where 2000 to 3000 migrants sleep under makeshift tents, get one meal a day, have access to basically no sanitation. The local associations which were trying to give migrants some basic services when the migrants were scattered in various “jungles” around town, were put out of the loop when the state opened the “Jules Ferry” camp with salaried people providing those services, but these have been run over by the scale of the problem, with no further help, hence the arrival of the NGOs.

Here, again, a case of raving madness by politicians: the migrants want to go to the UK and nowhere else, but rather than letting them cross and let the British deal with what is their own problem (you don’t ask your neighbour to deal with an unwelcome visitor to your own door), they are creating and fueling this endless crisis on the shores of Calais. Of course, the Calais problem is only an after-effect of the massive flux of migrants currently crossing from Northern Africa to Italy and Greece, fleeing the killing fields opened up to the islamists by… well, by France to a great extent, following the France-led destruction of Libya and irresponsible foreign policy in the Middle-East.

On that issue, the recent disclosure of Hillarious Clinton’s emails by the US Select Commitee on Benghazi adds to the notion that Sarkozy’s 2011 war in Libya was really a personnal vandetta against Kadhafi, to prevent the disclosure (and probable blackmail) of libyan funding of Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign.

myferrylink_reuters_paysageThe Calais crisis is now a double one: the ferry industry on the Calais-Dover route is currently in crisis following the decision by Eurotunnel, who operates three boats following the liquidation in 2012 of the SeaFrance ferry company, to stop its current lease contract with a cooperative of sailors from the old SeaFrance, in favour of arch-rival DFDS. The Eurotunnel/SeaFrance partnership operating under the flag MyFerryLink thus shut down on July 2nd, leaving nearly 600 sailors and employees out of a job. Eurotunnel said it would keep one boat and around 100 people, the two other boats beng leased to DFDS who said they might retake around 200 jobs. Strikes have followed, with MFL sailors blocking the port of Calais and pushing the two remaining ferry operators, DFDS and P&O, to divert to Boulogne-sur-Mer and Dunkerque. See this article from the Guardian for details.

The situation is an incredible mess, whilst migrants are trying to make the most of it to break into blocked lorries in massive traffic jams on the motorway to Calais. It reads like a novel: The original SeaFrance company, part of the SNCF (french railways) but effectively run by an old-style stalinist union under the leadership of one Didier Cappelle, scuttled itself in 2011 through bad management and abuse of unionist power. In 2012 Eurotunnel purchased the three boats from the SNCF whilst Mr Cappelle managed to setup a cooperative company to run the new ferry operation MyFerryLink with the boats leased from Eurotunnel. Eurotunnel put a couple of conditions to this, notably the fact that it would appoint the new MyFerryLink top management, and that if Cappelle (who headed the surveillance committee of the new cooperative company) got rid of those, the lease contract would be off.

This seemd to work out until early 2015, when the british Competition and Markets Authority was called in by DFDS and P&O to rule that MyFerryLink was in an illegal position of market domination, given that Eurotunnel was running both the Channel tunnel train service and the ferryboat service. The CMA originally said this was so, before being overruled in a appeal trial in June.

In the meantime, Didier Cappelle decided to fire the Eurotunnel-appointed management. Eurotunnel decided to give up on this, using the risk of further action by the CMA against MFL as an excuse to get rid of Cappelle and his suicidary bunch, and lease its boats elsewhere.

Didier Cappelle died of a heart attack on learning that Eurotunnel was going to lease his boats to DFDS.

In true french unionist fashion, a strike and port blocade was decided to complain on a situation that is in fact, to a large extent, of the union’s own making. Had they not provoked Eurotunnel, they might very well have struck a deal to acquire the ferries from them, given the bit of time whch the overturning of the CMA ruling had given them. Now they have lost 200 to 300 jobs, their leader, and their company.

What’s an honest sailor to do?

You can check-out my previous french chronicles here.

A propos Vincent Verschoore

Animateur de Ze Rhubarbe Blog depuis 2008.

2 réponses

  1. Thanks for the update on French politics. I too was disappointed with the Assange decision. I expected more from France. Why does Holland cowtow to the Americans? I hope you write about Greece. Do you think the EU nations should go the way of Iceland?

    1. Vincent

      Hi Martin! I think we just don’t imagine the amount of arm-twisting that goes on in diplomatic circles. And the US probably knows things about the french state, through spyng, that they can use to shut up Hollande. But I’m not even sure Hollande has any will to help whistle-blowers in the first place, as the french power structure has become essentially useless and is building a wall of jurisdiction to protect itself from the people.

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