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  • Writer's picturepeter grose

Who's not working?

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

I've just finished watching Edouard Philippe, the engaging French Prime Minister, and an array of lesser mortals, tell us what is in store for us from Monday in the way of lifting the lockdown. A quick summary might be that most of France will be open, with the exception of bars and restaurants. The two geographic exceptions will be the Île-de-France, which is the region around Paris and includes Paris, and the French island of Mayotte, which is in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius. So not too bad, then, as long as you don't live and work in Paris or Mayotte.

The best news is that beaches can open if the local mayor and the department's Préfet (Prefect) can agree on which beaches. The picture above is our local beach on Oléron, about 900 metres from where I live. As you can see the barrier blocking the way is less than formidable. Our local mayor Christophe Sueur had already asked no less a person than President Macron himself if beaches on Oléron could be opened. With luck his week-old request will be passed down to the préfet with a recommendation for action. We are all hopeful that even the flimsy barricade pictured above can be removed, and Monsieur le Maire's request can now be granted. Schools, businesses, even hairdressers will be allowed to open, so why not beaches? There will be restrictions on travel and we'll all have to wear masks, but it sounds like the worst is over.

However a question has been nagging at me. Just how closed are we? If I turn on a tap at home, water comes out. Someone went to work to make that happen. Ditto if I turn on a light switch, the room lights up. A whole army of workers made that possible.

All our supermarkets have stayed open, as have petrol stations, butchers, bakers and, for all I know, candlestick makers. In saying this I'm in no way diminishing the pain that has been inflicted on the French economy. France's recovery from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 has always been plodding and painful to watch, so the country was in no shape to shrug off any further economic shock waves. President Macron has an unassailable majority in the National Assembly so if good times return to France he can expect to be still around to bask in any economic sunshine. In that respect he's luckier than the nincompoop in the White House, who deservedly has to deal with a hostile House of Representatives led by the agile and clever Nancy Pelosi. However Macron doesn't have any equivalent of Fox News to cheer him on when the going gets tough. He has to communicate with French people by answering genuine questions from a largely unimpressed press corps, and he also faces the hostility of France's old Stalinist left, surprisingly strong and resilient despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Still, it's a plain fact that the French economy has not ground to a total halt. There are plenty of rungs of the ladder still left to climb, but at least the country isn't on the bottom rung. It's part of the way up, and on Monday it will start climbing faster.

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