French-American Foundation Weekly Brief highlights political, economic and cultural news stories related to France and French-American relations as well as trans-Atlantic and European issues.
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After including France among the 15 European nations placed under warning last month, Standard & Poor’s confirmed the anticipated downgrade of France’s sovereign debt rating from AAA to AA+ on Friday, January 13, Forbes and Time reported. While Germany was also put on notice, it was not among the nine nations that were downgraded that day during which Austria also lost its top rating. On Monday, January 16, Standard & Poor’s then announced it was downgrading the European Financial Stability Facility from AAA to AA+, according to les Echos and le Monde. While the announcement dropped the Euro down against other currencies, the markets were relatively unscathed, notably due to the long anticipation of the downgrade, according to le Parisien. The CAC 40 saw a slight drop on Friday, January 13, before remaining stable the rest of the day and ending with a boost on Monday, January 16. Responding to Standard & Poor’s decision, fellow notation agency Moody’s announced that it would review the ratings of France and its European neighbors in the coming months, according to Reuters.
As President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist contender for the April presidential elections François Hollande saw their numbers slip in a poll following the downgrade, the question of jobs came to the fore in political campaigns, as France continues to see an unemployment rate around 10 percent, Reuters, Bloomberg and Time reported. All major candidates have spoken this week, providing their views on how to create greater job opportunity and diversity to the French. Sarkozy and Hollande both spoke with unions and workers affected by various dwindling industries, while National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, whose numbers rose in the post-downgrade poll, spoke out against moving French jobs abroad, as explored by the Washington Post.
Socialist candidate François Holland found himself caught in a political tough-spot with the left part of his own party, as the question of national education and past promises seemed to give way to financial concerns and calls for further austerity, TF1 reported. The party seemed torn as the ambitious proposal to create 60,000 new positions was described as a “redeployment” of those who lost their posts amid education budget cuts under President Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande’s budget director clarified that in the current economic conditions, new posts could not be created, as covered by le Nouvel Observateur.
Interior Minister Claude Guéant announced on Tuesday, January 17, that for the ninth consecutive year, delinquency was on the decline in France, with 12,000 fewer instances of “delinquent” crimes in 2011 than in 2010. Drawing attention to increases in the crime rate when the left was in power under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Guéant made the point that there were 700,000 fewer victims of delinquent crime in 2011 than in 2002. Political rivals François Hollande and Marine Le Pen both responded to Guéant’s claims by pointing out that the number of violent crimes committed against the French had risen in that same time, as covered by TF1.
A week after beating Rick Santorum by only eight votes in the Iowa Caucus, Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Primary on Tuesday, January 10, with 38 percent of votes, followed by Ron Paul with 24 percent and Jon Hunstman with 17 percent, le Figaro and the New York Timesreported. After finishing third in a state to which he had dedicated much of his effort in the early primaries, Jon Huntsman announced on Monday, January 16, that he was dropping out of the race, giving his official endorsement to Romney, according to CNN. As the remaining candidates took part in a debate in advance of the next primary in South Carolina, scheduled to take place on Saturday, January 21, Romney continued to lead polls there with 28 percent on Monday, January 17, according to le JDD.
Following ongoing protests that brought national attention to the state of Wisconsin earlier in 2011, opponents of Governor Scott Walker, who led the effort to pass the contested bills restricting union rights, successfully filed a petition for a recall election on Tuesday, January 18, obtaining twice the number of votes required to make Walker defend his office this summer, Cyberpresse reported. Claiming to have gathered one million signatures for the recall petition, the state Democratic Party and United Wisconsin were successful in forcing Walker, along with Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican members of the Wisconsin State Senate to face recall elections, the Washington Post and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. The effort successfully forced the first gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin history and only the third in U.S. history.
English-language Wikipedia and Reddit are among website who have said they will shut down on Wednesday, January 18, to protest against two Congressional bills, the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act, 20 Minutes and the Washington Post reported. The website claim that the two bills threatened a free and open Internet, as explored by Rue 89.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Liberia on Sunday, January 15, as a first stop in a trip to Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, and Cape Verde, during which she would celebrate the advancement of democracy in several nations throughout West Africa. Clinton oversaw a delegation of American diplomats on Monday, January 16, for the swearing-in of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. This is the second term for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, according to Foreign Policy. On Tuesday, January 18, Clinton moved onto Côte d’Ivoire, where she met with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara before speaking about the promise of the West African nation and calling for reconciliation following the violent aftermath of the nation’s November 2010 elections, in which former leader Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede to Ouattara, according to Reuters and la Libération.
China announced on Tuesday, January 17, that the nation's GDP had grown 8.9 percent in the final quarter of 2011, meaning growth had slowed for the world's second largest economy but still surpassed expectations, the Wall Street Journal and RFI reported. Despite the slower growth in the fourth quarter, China saw an annual growth of 9.2 percent for the year, down from 10.4 percent in 2010, according to AFP.
Thousands gathered in Athens on Tuesday, January 17, to protest continuing austerity measures as the group of international creditors known as the Troika arrived to recommence negotiations after the process to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt, l'Humanité and the LA Times reported. As international investors fear Greece will default when a sizeable bond redemption comes due in March, the team of international creditors planned to continue negotiations on Wednesday, January 18, to pave the way for a complicated bond swap set as a condition for Greece to receive its next installment of bailout funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, according to Reuters and le Monde.
The European Commission announced on Tuesday, January 17, that it was beginning proceedings to examine three Hungarian laws, including a measure that is considered to threaten the independence of the nation’s central bank, according to le Monde and the New York Times. The announcement came after Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said that Hungary must address the political issues that could threaten financial stability before the IMF would consider providing assistance to Hungary to mitigate the nation’s financial difficulties, according to RFI.
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo reported on Tuesday, January 17, a fourth-quarter profit growth of 20 percent, explaining its success through increased personal and business loans, Boursier and the LA Times reported. While Wells Fargo surpassed expectations and saw only a slight decrease of 4 percent to overall revenue on the quarter, other American banks showed much weaker performances, with CitiGroup and JP Morgan announcing their lowest total revenues since the height of the financial crisis in 2008, according to Bloomberg.
Syrian officials rejected the idea of any deployment of soldiers from Arab League nations on Tuesday, January 17, after Qatar recommended the solution to end the violence that has plagued the nation for months, 20 Minutes and ABC reported. The rejection of military intervention came on Sunday, January 15 after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop all repression of his people, and stating that this method was a “dead end.” U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed his position that such government repression was “unacceptable” on Tuesday, January 17, according to Reuters and le Monde.
Five months after the beginning of his trial, lawyers for ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak began five days of defense arguments on Tuesday, January 18, on behalf of the once authoritarian leader facing charges of corruption and calling for the killing of protestors, the New York Times and le Point reported. Mubarak’s lawyers called him an honest and just man, as protests outside the court revealed continued division within Egyptian society even a year after the 18-day uprising that led to Mubarak’s departure from power, as covered by TF1, ABC and al Jazeera.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pronounced on Friday, January 13, that the nation would heighten security for scientists and continue with its scientific efforts, as Iranian officials held funeral services for Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a scientist assasinated on Wednesday, January 11, le Point and the New York Times reported. After the United States claimed no involvement in the assassination, the targeted bombing that killed Roshan – deputy director at the nation’s primary uranium enrichment facility – was credited to both the CIA and Israel by Iranian officials, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, le Nouvel Observateur and le Nouvel Observateur.
As rescue crews drilled holes into the partially sunken cruise liner Costa Concordia off the coast of Tuscany on Tuesday, January 17, in search of 29 missing passengers, the death toll from the wreck of the ship was confirmed to be at least 11, according to BBC and the New York Times. The ship went aground on a reef on Friday, January 13, causing the ship to turn and begin to sink. As details of the event are revealed, Francesco Schettino – captain of the ship – was placed on house arrest on Tuesday, January 17, after recordings showed that he fled the ship and refused to follow Italian Coast Guard orders to return to the ship to assist with rescue efforts, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, le Point and TF1.