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If the coronavirus pandemic dominated the year 2020, French political life also had its share of significant events with, in particular, the municipal elections on the eve of confinement or the appointment of Jean Castex to Matignon.

The Covid-19 dominated the political life of France in 2020, forcing the government to respond to a double crisis, health and economic. But other events punctuated this particular year, once again marked by the contestation of power.

  • The pension reform imposed and then stopped dead
Participants in the demonstration on January 24, 2020, in Marseille, against the pension reform.
Participants in the demonstration on January 24, 2020, in Marseille, against the pension reform. © Christophe Simon, AFP

It was through major protests against pension reform that 2020 begins. The dispute, started in December 2019 by the strike by SNCF and RATP agents, continues until February, becoming the most important social movement in France since the protests against the pension reform of 2010. Facing an opposition having decided to make the debates last as long as possible to the National Assembly, the government ends up using article 49-3 of the Constitution, Saturday February 29, to pass his text without a vote of the deputies.

Finally, the coronavirus pandemic is preventing pension reform from continuing its legislative course. The executive decides in March to suspend its examination to devote itself fully to the health crisis. And if the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, still says he hopes to see the reform succeed before the end of the five-year term, no other voice in the government has been added to his.

Former minister Benjamin Griveaux had to withdraw his candidacy for mayor of Paris after the publication, in February 2020, of intimate videos.
Former minister Benjamin Griveaux had to withdraw his candidacy for mayor of Paris after the publication, in February 2020, of intimate videos. © Lionel Bonaventure, AFP

The municipal election campaign, originally scheduled for March 15 and 22, is full of twists and turns. The most striking of them is without a doubt the abandonment, in February, of the candidate of La République en Marche in Paris, Benjamin Griveaux, whose intimate videos had been posted on the Internet a few days before. His urgent replacement by Agnès Buzyn, the Minister of Health at the time, forced to leave the government while the coronavirus pandemic begins to rage in France, does not prevent the rout of the presidential party in the capital. The outgoing socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and the candidate Les Républicains, Rachida Dati, come first in the first round.

The last week of the campaign is also dominated by the successive announcements of Emmanuel Macron and Édouard Philippe concerning the Covid-19: school closures Thursday March 12, then two days later, on the eve of the first round of municipal elections, that of all “places open to the public not essential to the life of the country” and generalized confinement from March 17th. Many French people then choose not to go to the polls.

  • The government facing the health crisis
Children watch, on March 16, 2020 in Rennes, the speech of President Emmanuel Macron.
Children watch, on March 16, 2020 in Rennes, the speech of President Emmanuel Macron. Damien Meyer AFP / Archives

The first wave of Covid-19 takes the government by surprise, whose unpreparedness will be severely singled out in December by inquiries by the National Assembly and the Senate. The executive – and especially the Ministry of Health – is blamed for not having renewed the strategic stocks of masks. Government communication on this is clumsy at best. It is first explained to the French that wearing a mask is useless. Then the wearing of it is made compulsory during the summer. In hospitals, there is a lack of intensive care beds, ventilators and some essential drugs.

Emmanuel Macron affirms, however, on March 12, that all necessary means will be implemented to protect the French, and that “whatever the cost”. On the economic front, partial unemployment is set up for millions of French people – up to 8.6 million in April – and financial aid is provided to companies. However, these measures do not prevent poverty from gaining ground. Eight weeks after its implementation, confinement ends on May 11 and the French are gradually getting back to their daily lives. But contaminations start to rise again at the end of the summer – the testing campaign and the tracing of contact cases are this time considered ineffective – and a new generalized containment is established from October 29 to December 15. Emmanuel Macron will test positive on December 17.

The ecologist Grégory Doucet won the town hall of Lyon in the second round of municipal elections, on June 28, 2020.
The ecologist Grégory Doucet won the town hall of Lyon in the second round of municipal elections, on June 28, 2020. JEFF PACHOUD AFP

The second round of municipal elections was finally held on June 28 after a funny campaign, ie two and a half months after the first round. Environmentalists prevail in several large cities – Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg in particular – and are also decisive allies of the outgoing mayor in Paris. Beyond this “green wave”, the rout of the presidential party, The Republic on the march, marks the spirits: no victory in the big cities and several setbacks when the LREM candidate allies with Les Républicains to block Europe Écologie-Les Verts. The victory in Le Havre of the Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, is one of the few reasons for satisfaction for the majority.

  • The 149 proposals of the Citizen’s Climate Convention
President Emmanuel Macron, January 10, 2020, at the Citizen's Climate Convention, in Paris.
President Emmanuel Macron, January 10, 2020, at the Citizen’s Climate Convention, in Paris. Yoan VALAT POOL / AFP / Archives

Set up in the fall of 2019 by Emmanuel Macron, the Citizen’s Convention for the Climate brings together 150 citizens drawn by lot and responsible for formulating proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in France by at least 40% by 2030, compared to 1990, all in a spirit of social justice. “The 150” submit on June 21 149 proposals to the President of the Republic, who undertakes on June 29, during a reception of the “conventional” at the Élysée, to take them all back, with the exception of three of them. But several ministers reject other measures in the months that follow, while some are repeated but watered down. The moratorium on 5G symbolizes the gap between the speech of Emmanuel Macron in front of the 150 conventional and his actions : he opposes it in September, ironicizing in passing about the defenders of the “Amish model”.

The last hopes of the members of the Climate Convention are showered on December 14, during a meeting with the head of state. The latter tells them that he is backing down on several key proposals, including the obligation to completely renovate buildings or the ban on the sale of the most polluting vehicles. Emmanuel Macron accepts on the other hand to propose a referendum to include the defense of the climate and the preservation of the environment in the Constitution.

  • Jean Castex appointed Prime Minister
Former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe applauds his successor, Jean Castex, in the courtyard of the Hotel Matignon, July 3, 2020.
Former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe applauds his successor, Jean Castex, in the courtyard of the Hotel Matignon, July 3, 2020. Thomas SAMSON POOL / AFP

Senior official unknown to the general public, named in the spring “M. Déconfinement” of the government, Jean Castex becomes Prime Minister July 3 replacing Édouard Philippe. This change at the head of government is accompanied by several ministerial movements: Gérald Darmanin arrives in particular at the Interior and Éric Dupond-Moretti at Justice. These two appointments go badly with feminists : the first is accused of rape, the second of having made sexist remarks.

  • A recovery plan of 100 billion euros
Prime Minister Jean Castex, September 3, 2020, in Paris.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, September 3, 2020, in Paris. AFP – LUDOVIC MARIN

To fight against the economic crisis created by the health crisis, the Prime Minister presents on September 3 a recovery plan to 100 billion euros. This is based on three pillars: 36 billion euros for territorial cohesion, 34 billion euros for the competitiveness of companies and 30 billion euros for ecological transition.

A report from the High Council for the Climate (HCC), published on December 15, however judges that France’s recovery plan is not green enough. The HCC says in particular that the government is not going far enough in its objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also believes that the promised investments are not part of a long-term carbon neutrality strategy, which France has nevertheless committed to achieve in 2050.

  • The Republic on the march cracks
The former Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner, on April 7, 2020, at the National Assembly, in Paris.
The former Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner, on April 7, 2020, at the National Assembly, in Paris. ALAIN JOCARD AFP / Archives

Ultra-majority in the National Assembly, with 314 deputies, after the legislative elections of June 2017, the group La République en Marche cracks a little more each year. It is above all the members of his left wing who set off one after the other. The departure of seven elected officials in May ended up losing the absolute majority to LREM, which now has “only” 270 deputies.

Other defections could occur since tensions are high inside the party. The heavy task of pacifying relations and keeping a group cohesion falls to the former Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, elected boss of the LREM group in September replacing Gilles Le Gendre.

  • A “global security” law that does not pass
Demonstration against the proposed law
Demonstration against the proposed “global security” law, November 21, 2020, in Paris. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN AFP / Archives

The proposed law “global security” presented in November to the National Assembly, and in particular its article 24 which planned to create an offense for the dissemination of images “with the aim of harming the physical or psychological integrity” of a policeman or a gendarme, takes many citizens to the streets. Journalists express their fears that they will no longer be able to film the police during their interventions. The text is voted on November 24 by the deputies, but Emmanuel Macron asks his majority, during a crisis meeting at the Elysee Palace, to rewrite the controversial article.

Beyond this bill, it is indeed the subject of police violence that comes back in a loop. Long in denial, the executive changes its rhetoric, when Emmanuel Macron asks his Minister of the Interior “for clear proposals to improve ethics” within the police. Then at the beginning of December, in an interview with the online media Brut, the head of state recognizes that there is “violence by police officers”, before announcing the holding of a “Beauvau de la sécurité” in January.

  • Death of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing
Former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing died on December 2, 2020 as a result of Covid-19.
Former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing died on December 2, 2020 as a result of Covid-19. PHILIPPE WOJAZER AFP / File

The former President of the Republic (1974-1981) dies on December 2 at the age of 94 consequences of Covid-19. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing did not want a national tribute, like the one that had been organized for former President Jacques Chirac in September 2019. France therefore soberly greets, a week later, on December 9, the former head of state with the provision of a guest book at the Musée d’Orsay, flags at half mast and a minute of silence in several institutions.

  • A law on “separatism” which strengthens the control of religions
French President Emmanuel Macron presents his strategy to fight separatism on October 2, 2020, in Les Mureaux, in the Paris suburbs.
French President Emmanuel Macron presents his strategy to fight separatism on October 2, 2020, in Les Mureaux, in the Paris suburbs. © Reuters

The government presents on December 9, in the Council of Ministers, his bill on “separatism”, finally renamed “bill reinforcing republican principles”. Almost two months later the assassination of Samuel Paty, a teacher from a college in Yvelines who showed his students, during a course on freedom of expression, caricatures of Mohammed, the text intends to respond to the rise of radical Islamism. The bill provides in particular to restrict home education, better control the operation and funding of associations and places of worship, and better control online hatred. Scheduled for early 2021, the debates in Parliament, which will confront two visions of secularism, are shaping up to be stormy.



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