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Jul 2002

BAC to the wall.

July brings summer vacation for French high school students, along with the Baccalauréat, or BAC(pronounced "back") results for seniors. In June over 650,000 students took their BAC tests. After passing, a French student will graduate from high school. Those that don't pass will have to repeat their senior year. The passing rate is about 80%, this is up from the early 80's rate of less than 50%. Created by Napoleon in 1809 as a way to put merit over nobility, the BAC is a series of exams, subjects which change depending on the students field of study. Most exams last about four hours and are held on successive days.

Legislative Elections

French President Jacques Chirac's coalition, Union for the Presidential Majority, won an overwhelming majority, 370 to be exact, in the 577-seat French parliament this last June 16th. This puts Chirac back into the driver's seat of politics, banishing "co-habitation" or coalition governments between the left and right. But there is still a back seat driver in the European Union. One of Chirac's campaign promises was to cut taxes, the European Union advised against such a cut. The question remains: does Chirac possess the will to stand and fight for a tax reduction and will the government sector that gets the budget cuts, passivity let the cuts happen. The far right National Front, whose candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made it into the second round of the presidential election, thus sending shock waves throughout France, won no seats. The Socialist Party, now the main opposition party, won 153 seats, less than half the number won in 1997. In France the members of parliament are elected by direct vote. If no candidate in a district, or circonscription, receives more than 50% in the first round then all candidates with more then 12.5% go into the second round. The candidate that then gets the most votes in the second round is elected. The popular vote was not as overwhelming as the results suggest, the first round voting was 44% right, 36% left, 12% extreme right and 3% extreme left. In the second round the right won about 53% and the left 47% of the vote in contests that where strictly right/left. Very few on the right were celebrating after the first round, mostly because over 40% of the electorate stayed home. This low voter turnout continues the trend of the presidential election.

The Bleus

France's national nightmare is finally over. The nightmare was the play of its football team at the World Cup. Les Bleus, as the team is known in France, failed to score a goal and only managed a tie and two loss in three games. Going into this World Cup Les Bleus were the defending champions, creating high hopes for the team. But hopes were quickly dashed. The first match Les Bleus lost 1-0 to Senegal. The French were able to live with that, because most players from Senegal play for French teams. But the failure to score a goal in the last two matches shocked the nation.

Heat wave

June has also brought unseasonably hot weather to France. One of the side effects: a high level of ozone. Most big cities in France experienced a noticeable decline in air quality. Some streets in Marseille where closed to traffic due to unhealthy air. In Strasbourg where I live, it has been very hot with no noticeable decline in air quality. This might not be saying a much as Strasbourg normally has some of the poorest air quality in France.

Festive Nation

I am always impressed by the French ability to have a good time. Not only on a small scale but nation wide. Two examples of this just happened, La Fête de la Music and La Fête du Cinéma. Fête de la Music is a national music festival that takes place once a year in June. Free concerts are everywhere, even in little towns and villages. There are official concerts that take place in a city parks and squares. There are also lots of unofficial street concerts that give La Fête de la Music its charm, variety and accessibility. In Strasbourg in just a ten minute walk we heard: African Dance Music, Scottish Bagpipes, Hard Rock, 50's Rock and Blues. La Fête du Cinéma is a little less accessible, you have to pay to see the films. But for three days, after you purchase your first ticket at full price, you then pay €1.50 for every ticket there after. Not a bad deal I think.


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