Everything you need to know about the French election

This article was published on The Huffington Post

One of my favourite French words is bouleversement. It means disruption or upheaval. Zidane’s head-butt in the 2006 World Cup final represented bouleversement for the French team. When Parisian bakers were allowed to go on holiday whenever they wanted for the first time in 2015, there was (perhaps) bouleversement as locals found it harder to buy baguettes. Determined to conserve their culture, their language and their 35-hour week, the French see bouleversements everywhere.

On Sunday 23rd April French voters go to the polls for the first-round of the presidential election. There are eleven candidates facing the voters, and – providing no-one reaches the 50 percent threshold – the top two will go through to the second-round a fortnight later.

The current polling is available here.

It has certainly been a campaign of bouleversements. If you have not been following it so far, here is a guide to the main candidates. Continue reading Everything you need to know about the French election

Alain Juppé: the cold, septuagenarian Conservative may be the best option For French progressives

Alain Juppé à Québec

This article was published in The Huffington Post

“I was the king in the family,” Alain Juppé claimed about his pampered upbringing. On a school trip to Lisbon, pleased to have escaped the family bubble, he was surprised to discover upon arriving that his overprotective parents had made the journey as well to check he was alright.

Now 71, Juppé is running to be the presidential nominee for the centre-right Republicans; he first became a minister over 30 years ago. He once declared that in French politics “only physical death counts, otherwise there is always the possibility of resurrection” and is the living proof of the statement’s veracity. Continue reading Alain Juppé: the cold, septuagenarian Conservative may be the best option For French progressives

What causes someone to become a terrorist? The French debate.

Paris Shootings - The day after (22593744177)

“France is at war,” declared François Hollande, after last November’s attacks in Paris. Since then, he has had to declare it several more times. It is a strange sort of war. France fights not against a coherent, well-defined enemy, but against a pervasive ideology. The front line is now not just the streets of Paris but provincial cities and even the French countryside. Continue reading What causes someone to become a terrorist? The French debate.

Spain votes again

This article was published on Backbench

For a small impoverished region in the north-west of Spain, Galicia has a record of producing strong political leaders. Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain from the end of the country’s civil war in the 1930s until his death in 1975, hailed from Ferrol on the north-western tip of the region. Manuel Fraga, a Franco minister and later long-time First Minister of Galicia, was a fierce Galician. Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was born in the region, as was the father of Cuba’s Fidel and Raúl Castro.

A more familiar stereotype of Galicians is that they are indecisive, and it is this characteristic which has extended across the Spanish electorate – if not the politicians – today. All the talk going into last December’s election was about the effect of two insurgent parties: far-left Podemos (“We Can”) and centre-right Ciudadanos (“Citizens”). Set up in the last few years, these parties threatened to break the stranglehold on Spanish politics – since the 1980s the centre-right Partido Popular (Peoples’ Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) have swapped power every decade or so. Continue reading Spain votes again

thoughts on the Paris attacks

This article was published on Backbench and won IMPACT Article of the Month 

France starts a new week in a much more jittery state and darker mood than it started the last. It asks itself: why us? While Islamist terrorism is a much worse scourge in countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, in our Western bubble it is France that has suffered most: from Mohammed Merah’s murderous rampage in Toulouse and Montauban in 2012, to the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of this year, to Friday’s events. Continue reading thoughts on the Paris attacks

Us and them

Catalonia Blanes Senyera
This short piece was published in SUR in English 

Catalonia has been plunged into uncertainty after last Sunday’s regional elections which gave the pro-independence groups a majority of seats but not votes. Plans to go ahead with the process of creating a new state have been complicated by the left-wing nationalist party CUP’s refusal to support Artur Mas as president. Meanwhile, the central government maintains that any independence bid or referendum is illegal. Under this reasoning, support for independence could be at 80%, 90% or even 100% and it would make no difference. Continue reading Us and them

Clashing of nationalisms

Estelada d'espelmes a la plaça Major de Vic 04

This article was published on Backbench

Catalonia is on the brink of pushing for separation from Spain. If the coalition of independence-supporting parties, Junts pel Sí (Together For Yes), wins a majority in regional elections on 27 September, they have promised to initiate a secession process. The reason nationalists are resorting to elections rather than using a referendum, like the one which took place in Scotland last year, is explained by the limitations imposed by the state. The Spanish Constitution, which was negotiated in the wake of Franco’s death at a time when modernists still feared the prospect of civil war should democratic demands go too far, makes it illegal for a referendum in Catalonia to be held. Instead, whether the region can become independent is supposedly a decision for all Spaniards to make. An attempt to hold a referendum was blocked last year; instead, last November there was a non-binding one, or, officially, a “citizen participation process on the political future of Catalonia”. It is also illegal, therefore, to do what the pro-independence parties promise to do should they win, so fireworks are expected. Continue reading Clashing of nationalisms