Strauss-Kahn, Euro, Burqa, what the French talked about in 2011
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Nearly everything which mattered in France this year is somehow linked to Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
As well as the morality tale which it was, the saga utterly dominated conversation in France for weeks, and also had more widespread repercussions…
It sparked a bout of soul-searching among French journalists, many of whom knew of Strauss-Kahn’s reputation as a compulsive womaniser but never chose to investigate further.
France’s tough privacy laws made such subjects difficult to cover, but there was a feeling that the media and many politicians had been complicit in a failure to treat the subject seriously.
DSK’s wife Anne Sinclair was also the subject of endless polarising discussions.
The beautiful former television journalist is now either one half of the most annoying couple of the year, or the female personality of 2011 depending on which end-of-year survey you read.
The fallout continues, fed recently by reports of possible links to an alleged prostitution ring in Lille in northern France.
It is hard to exaggerate the impact of the story of his epic downfall, a Greek tragedy with spectacular twists in the plot, still unfolding with an increasingly pathetic and lonely old man at its centre.
Before May he had been tipped to become the next French president and the collapse of his career completely changed the scene for France’s Socialist Party.
With DSK disqualified, the Socialist primaries became a lot more interesting, and they were another key news story from 2011.
There were six candidates, three of whom didn’t count: the one whose name no one can remember. Manuel Valls who never had a chance as he is considered to be at heart a right-winger and Arnaud Montebourg who used the primaries to project his boyish charm and further his chances next time around.
The first of the interesting ones was Ségolène Royale, who many outside France remember because she seemed a strong contender against Sarkozy in 2007.
Sadly for her, in the intervening years she consolidated a reputation for being slightly bonkers and won a measly 7 per cent of the vote in the primaries.
It was a cruel blow after a dogged four-year-battle, to lose out to her former life-partner François Hollande, and she failed to hide her tears, earning herself the place of most annoying politician of 2011 in that poll – politics is a thankless business.
The other interesting one was Martine Aubry, who lacks the glamour of Royale and therefore sensibly campaigned as an ordinary-woman-of-the-people, but was hampered by a lingering suspicion that she had never really wanted the job and only stood when her pal DSK was mortally wounded.
The guy who won was Ségolène’s ex and father of her four children, another self-styled “ordinary man” François Hollande.
He was among many who benefited from Strauss-Kahn’s collapse (think Christine Lagarde, elected IMF boss in 2011.)
Hollande was the first officially to declare his candidacy and he campaigned determinedly and surefootedly for months until he finally won the nomination to be Socialist Party candidate in the 2012 presidential elections and promptly almost disappeared from public view.
Something else which (almost) disappeared from public view in 2011 in France was the burqa.
The much-debated and long-prepared ban on wearing the burqa in public places was finally implemented in April of this year.
And on the whole, most French people would agree, that in spite of predictions (mostly from outside France) that all hell would break loose, it’s going fairly smoothly so far.
Widely misunderstood, it was not a particular pet-project of Nicolas Sarkozy’s who was wary of a ban but it was originally championed by the former Communist Mayor of Venissieux, a town near Lyons.
The ban was almost unanimously recommended after an all-party commission which heard from women’s and muslim groups.
Early days yet but the ban seems to be gaining acceptance.
Hard to link it to Dominique Strauss-Kahn but a cartoonist would probably think of something.
You CAN link DSK to the final key dinner party subject of 2011: the euro and the evolution of the creature that is Merkozy.
DSK would have been a key figure in their discussions and an influence on their relationship had he remained head of the International Monetary Fund.
But he didn’t and he wasn’t, and even though Sarkozy can’t speak German like DSK, he has plenty of energy and everything to gain from trying to rescue the euro.
The subject dominated dinner parties certainly, but often few of us really understood what we were talking about.
What seems clear is that Sarkozy had a hard job, but eventually succeeded, in persuading Merkel to remind her electorate of the benefits of the euro (massive German exports), and that she eventually got behind efforts to find a solution.
He failed to persuade her to allow more political influence over the European Central Bank.
The year ended with the nerve-jangling make-it-or-break-it summit on the Euro, but it’s still not clear whether the currency will be saved.
Details of the fiscal pact are fuzzy, some governments might face obstacles before signing up, and there is no guarantee that it will lead the independent European Central Bank to print more money as many are hoping.
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