France. Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was
completely acquitted in January of the indictment of false
bribery charges in 2004 against party colleague Nicolas
Sarkozy, who later became president. Three co-defendants in
the so-called Clearstream affair were sentenced to prison,
essentially conditional, and in one case fined. de Villepin
later formed a new party, the Republic Solidaire (Solidarity
Republic), which was expected to stand against Sarkozy and
the ruling party Union for a People's Movement (UMP) in the
2012 presidential election.
COUNTRYAAH, Sarkozy's ruling party UMP lost big in the regional
elections in March. The Socialist Party in alliance with
Communists and environmentalists prevailed in 22 regions and
the Left along with nationalists prevailed in Corsica. The
UMP won only in Alsace and two of the overseas regions.
On orders from Sarkozy, during the summer, demolitions of
about 300 Roma camps in France began. More than a thousand
Roma from Bulgaria and Romania were sent back to their home
country. The mass rejections triggered protests and the
European Commission asked the government to declare. In
September, the EU came up with sharply worded criticism of
France, after government officials had assured that the
measures were not directed at the Roma - something which was
then disproved by official documents. France also received
stinging criticism for its treatment of the Roma.
The government's plans to raise the retirement age from
60 to 62 years, and for maximum pensions from 65 to 67,
caused repeated one-day strikes and demonstrations during
The protests culminated over a couple of weeks in October
when up to three million people attended. Workers at all the
country's oil depots strike with widespread fuel shortages
as a result. Air traffic and train traffic were affected.
Road traffic was disrupted when truck drivers blocked roads
and the teaching of many schools was disrupted when high
schoolers also participated in the protests. Many said they
understood the need for a pension reform because of large
deficits in the system, but protested that the government
was pushing it through without dialogue. Dissatisfaction was
also expressed over Sarkozy's policies in general. The
president's popularity figures were at the bottom.
The government nevertheless maintained its line and the
bill was adopted by both chambers of Parliament. After the
constitutional review of the law, at the request of the
opposition, it came into force in November. Afterwards,
Sarkozy carried out an expected government reform. Michele
Alliot-Marie became new foreign minister and Alain Juppé new
defense minister. Prime Minister François Fillon remained in
France became the first in Europe to legislate against a
comprehensive Muslim veil, burka or niqab, in public place.
The bill was part of an ongoing intensive debate on French
identity and French values. Critics felt that the ban
violated religious freedom and stigmatized an already
vulnerable group. However, the proposal was voted on by a
large majority in both chambers of Parliament, and in
October the Constitutional Court had approved it.
Jérôme Kerviel, former stock trader at the big bank
Société Générale, was sentenced in October to three years in
prison for computer intrusion, forgery and infidelity
against the principal. Kerviel was also sentenced to
compensate the bank for damages caused by wild speculative
securities trading. However, the bank made clear that it was
not expected to recover the full amount: the losses revealed
in 2008 amounted to EUR 4.9 billion.