Category Archives: France

The Geopolitical War over Mali: West Africa is Up for Grabs

The distance between Ukraine and Mali is measured in thousands of kilometers. But the geopolitical distance is much closer to the point that it appears as if the ongoing conflicts in both countries are the direct outcomes of the same geopolitical currents and transformation underway around the world.

The Malian government is now accusing French troops of perpetuating a massacre in the West African country. Consequently, on April 23, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared its support for Malian efforts, pushing for an international investigation into French abuses and massacres in Mali. “We hope that those responsible will be identified and justly punished,” the Ministry said.

In its coverage, Western media largely omitted the Malian and Russian claims of French massacres; instead, they gave credence to French accusations that the Malian forces, possibly with the help of ‘Russian mercenaries’ have carried out massacres and buried the dead in mass graves near the recently evacuated French army Gossi base, in order to blame France.

Earlier in April, Human Rights Watch called for an ‘independent, credible’ inquiry into the killings, though it negated both accounts. It suggested that a bloody campaign had indeed taken place, targeting mostly “armed Islamists” between March 23-31.

Media whitewashing and official misinformation aside, Mali has indeed been a stage for much bloodletting in recent years, especially since 2012, when a militant insurgency in Northern Mali threatened the complete destabilization of an already unstable and impoverished country.

There were reasons for the insurgency, including the sudden access to smuggled weapon caches originating in Libya following the West’s war on Tripoli in 2011.  Thousands of militants, who were pushed out of Libya during the war and its aftermath, found safe havens in the largely ungoverned Malian northern regions.

That in mind, the militants’ success – where they managed to seize nearly a third of the country’s territory in merely two months – was not entirely linked to western arms. Large swathes of Mali have suffered from prolonged governmental neglect and extreme poverty. Moreover, the Malian army, often beholden to foreign interests, is much hated in these regions due to its violent campaigns and horrific human rights abuses. No wonder why the northern rebellion found so much popular support in these parts.

Two months after the Tuareg rebellion in the north, a Malian officer and a contingency of purportedly disgruntled soldiers overthrew the elected government in Bamako, accusing it of corruption and of failure in reining in the militants. This, in turn, paved the road for France’s military intervention in its former colony under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The French war in Mali, starting in 2013, was disastrous from the Malians’ point of view. It neither stabilized the country nor provided a comprehensive scheme on how to pacify the rebellious north. War, human rights violations by the French themselves, and more military coups followed, most notably in August 2020 and May 2021.

But France’s intervention was fruitful from France’s viewpoint. As soon as French troops began pouring into Mali, as soon as France began strengthening its control over the Sahel countries, including Mali, leading to the signing of two defense agreements, in 2013 and 2020.

That’s where the French West African ‘success story’ ends. Though Paris succeeded in digging its heels deeper in that region, it gave no reason to the Malian people or government to support their actions. As France became more involved in the life of Malians, ordinary people throughout the country, north and south, detested and rejected them. This shift was the perfect opportunity for Russia to offer itself as an alternative to France and the West. The advent of Russia into the complex scene allowed Bamako to engineer a clean break from its total reliance on France and its Western, NATO allies.

Even before France formally ended its presence in the country, Russian arms and military technicians were landing in Bamako. Attack helicopters, mobile radar systems and other Russian military technology, quickly replaced French arms. It is no wonder why Mali voted against the United Nations General Assembly Resolution to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

As a result of the Ukraine war and western sanctions starting in late February, Russia accelerated its political and economic outreach, particularly in southern countries, with the hope of lessening the impact of the west-led international isolation.

In truth, Moscow’s geopolitical quest in West Africa began earlier than the Ukraine conflict, and Mali’s immediate support for Russia following the war was a testament to Moscow’s success in that region.

Though France officially began its withdrawal from Mali last February, Paris and other European capitals are increasingly aware of what they perceive to be a ‘Russian threat’ in that region. But how can the West fight back against this real or imaginary threat, especially in the light of the French withdrawal? Further destabilizing Mali is one option.

Indeed, on May 16, Bamako declared that it thwarted a military coup in the country, claiming that the coup leaders were soldiers who “were supported by a Western state”, presumably France.

If the ‘coup’ had succeeded, does this indicate that France – or another ‘western country’ – is plotting a return to Mali on the back of yet another military intervention?

Russia, on the other hand, cannot afford to lose a precious friend, like Mali, during this critical time of western sanctions and isolation. In effect, this means that Mali will continue to be the stage of a geopolitical cold war that could last for years. The winner of this war could potentially claim the whole of West Africa, which remains hostage to global competition well beyond its national boundaries.

The post The Geopolitical War over Mali: West Africa is Up for Grabs first appeared on Dissident Voice.

General Electric’s French Tax Scam

Since the purchase of Alstom Energy in 2015, the US multinational could have put in place a vast system of tax evasion involving France, Switzerland and Delaware. With the blessing of the French Finance Ministry.

It is an industrial fiasco which has no end. Seven years after the sale of Alstom Energy to General Electric,1 the record of the American multinational has been disastrous – 5000 workers retrenched, including 1400 in the key Belfort factory complex; an advanced technology hub left to rot; a preliminary inquest for conflict of interest against Hugh Bailey, CEO of GE France.2 And now, a scandal involving tax evasion.

According to our inquest, supported by independent audit reports and several internal accounting documents of the group, the American multinational has put in place an opaque financial setup between its French subsidiary, General Electric Energy Products France (GEEPF) and subsidiaries domiciled in Switzerland and in the American State of Delaware.

Objective: to bypass the French tax authorities in concealing the profits arising from the sale of gas turbines produced at Belfort, in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.region. We estimate that more than €800 million has disappeared from GEEPF’s accounts between 2015 and 2020. This translates into a deficit for the public exchequer of €150-300 million.

Mediapart has already analysed in 2019 the means by which the financial policies of the company has drained the Belfort site. The massive utilisation of intra-group financial transfers via transfer pricing has been outlined. The revelations of Disclose confirm and deepen this information.

For GE, the large-scale tax evasion begins in late 2015 by a trick both simple and discrete: the transfer of corporate liability to a company created for the occasion at Baden, in Switzerland. Its name: General Electric Switzerland GmbH (GES).

From then onwards, the Belfort factory, announced at the time of purchase from Alstom as the future global site of turbine production for the group, ceases to be a manufacturing site and becomes a ‘production unit’ placed under the direction of a Swiss company. This restructuring marks the last profitable year of the Belfort site. And for good reason: with this sleight of hand, GE comes to launch its process of the appropriation of the profits arising from the sale of turbines and component parts ‘made in France’.

An illustration from 2019. This particular year, a contract is passed between GEEPF and the Swiss company GES for the sale of gas turbines. The contract price – more than €350 million. Although these products have been produced in France, GES appropriates for itself the status of ‘manufacturer’, presenting the Belfort site merely as a banal ‘distributor’.

The point of this vanishing act: to allow the Swiss outlet to resell the turbines to the ultimate client in order to garner the profits of the sale. In the framework of the contracts, not less than 97 % of the profits fly off to Switzerland, where the company tax rate ranges between 17 – 22 % against 33 % in France. Contacted, General Electric has not responded to our questions.

Laissez-faire of the state

A similar setup concerns the sale of replacement parts for the turbines – the bulk of revenues generated at Belfort. From estimates based on the GE group’s annual reports, the scheme could have transferred around €1.5 billion to GES, the Swiss subsidiary, between 2016 and 2019. All with the blessing of the French Finance Ministry.

From our investigations, General Electric, following the acquisition of Alstom Energy, could have benefited from the protocol of a ‘trust relationship’ (relation de confiance) with the French Treasury. This mechanism allows that “the enterprise should furnish all the elements necessary to the understanding of its [fiscal] situation”, citing a document from the DGFiP (direction générale des finances publiques), dating from 2013. Clearly, the multinational has validated its tax scheme, involving the links with its subsidiaries, with the Finance Ministry. In return, it has ensured that the Ministry has arranged to not execute any control over the arrangement. Interrogated over its precise knowledge of this mechanism of fiscal optimisation established by General Electric, the Ministry of Economy and Finance has not responded to our questions.

At Baden, 8 Brown-Boveri Strasse, General Electric has domiciled three other subsidiaries as French ‘service providers’. The first two, General Electric Global Services GMbH and GE Global Parts and Products GmbH, are charged to sell replacement parts manufactured at Belfort. The third, baptised General Electric Technology GmbH, has as mission to hold the patent rights over gas turbines. For one simple reason, according to one of the audit reports consulted by Disclose: “The foreign revenues arising from patents are very little taxed in Switzerland”. Since 2017, €177 million of royalty payments have left France, direction Baden.

The millions sent to Delaware

To complete its strategy of fiscal optimisation, General Electric relies on another subsidiary of the group, based, this time, in the US. Monogram Licensing International LLC – this is its name – is domiciled in Delaware, a State known for imposing zero tax on companies. Between 2014 and 2019, it could have received around €80.9 million on the part of GE France for the utilisation of GE’s brand, logo and advertising slogans. According to the contract in place between GE France and Monogram, France must pay 1 % of its annual turnover to Delaware. However, this threshold has been cleared on several occasions. With no explanation, one of the audits of the group has underlined.

The massive appropriation of the wealth produced by the workers of Belfort is essentially illegal, as outlined in the international tax convention BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting). Taking effect in France in 2019, this text, intended to reinforce the struggle against tax evasion, stipulates that company profits must be “taxed where the real economic activity takes place … and where value is created”. Logically, in the case of turbines manufactured at Belfort, the associated tax must then be deducted in France, not in Switzerland.

The workforce the losers

In making disappear €800 million from the accounts of General Electric Energy Products France, the multinational has then escaped tax. But it has also deprived the French workforce of a part of their participation in the enterprise. A tax expert to whom we’ve submitted the details of the operations of General Electric at Belfort confirms it: in artificially reducing the profits, the industrial could have deprived its employees of several thousand euros each, between 2015 and 2019, by virtue of their formal participation in GEEPF profits. In December 2021, the SUD Industrie Union and the Social and Economic Committee (CSE) on the Belfort site have lodged a complaint against their employer for “fraud against the right to participation [in profits] of employees”.

The system implanted by the group has equally burdened the municipal budget. “Leaving from the moment when GE moved its profits offshore, inevitably it pays less [local] taxes”, explains Mathilde Regnaud, opposition Councillor at Belfort. By February 2022, given “the cumulative loss of tax takings”, estimated at €10 million, from the tax on enterprise value-added (cotisation sur la valeur ajoutée des entreprises, CVAE), members of the Municipal Council of Belfort have requested a detailed analysis of the tax losses suffered by the town. A demand which points above all to “the legality … of the manoeuvres of fiscal optimisation” carried out by General Electric on the territory. In 2021, the aforesaid manoeuvres could have in part provoked the augmentation of property taxes on the commune.

*****

31 May. Following publication, the Ministry of the Economy and Finance and the DGFiP (direction générale des finances publiques) have reacted through Agence France-Presse, claiming that they had never validated GE’s tax arrangements via any ‘trust relationship’. General Electric, through AFP, claims that the group “respects the fiscal regime of the countries in which it operates”.

  • The article has been translated by Evan Jones.
    1. [Translator’s note] The complex saga of the corrupt takeover of Alstom Energy by General Electric is told in Jones, ‘Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy, Counterpunch, 2 December 2016; and Jones, ‘The Coalition of the US Justice Department and GE against Alstom’, Dissident Voice, 20 April 2019. Of great significance regarding the rise and rise of General Electric is a recent book by Stephen Maher, Corporate Capitalism and the Integral State: General Electric and a Century of American Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2022.
    2. [Translator’s note] In September 2019, the public prosecutor of Paris charged Bailey for possible conflict of interest. Bailey was advisor in the office of Emmanuel Macron, then Economy Minister, when €70 million was granted to the French export authority which directly benefited GE’s exports. In 2017, Macron becomes President, Bailey is hired by GE France and is appointed CEO in 2019.
    The post General Electric’s French Tax Scam first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    New York Times admits truth of Haitian coup

    “A Haitian president demands reparations and ends up in exile”, declared the front-page of Wednesday’s New York Times. Eighteen years later those who opposed the US, French and Canadian coup have largely won the battle over the historical record.

    French ambassador Thierry Burkard admits that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s call for the restitution of Haiti’s debt (ransom) of independence partly explains why he was ousted in 2004. Burkard told the Times the elected president’s removal was “a coup” that was “probably a bit about” Aristide’s campaign for France to repay Haiti.

    Other major outlets have also investigated the coup recently. In 2020 Radio-Canada’s flagship news program “Enquête” interviewed Denis Paradis, the Liberal minister responsible for organizing the 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti where US, French and Canadian officials discussed ousting the elected president and putting the country under UN trusteeship. Paradis admitted to Radio-Canada that no Haitian officials were invited to discuss their own country’s future and the imperial triumvirate broached whether “the principle of sovereignty is unassailable?” Enquête also interviewed long time Haitian Canadian activist and author Jean Saint-Vil who offered a critical perspective on the discussion to oust Aristide.

    Radio-Canada and the Times’ coverage was influenced by hundreds of articles published by solidarity campaigners in left wing outlets. Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment: Repression and Resistance in Haiti, 2004–2006, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation, An Unbroken Agony Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President provide richer documentation about the coup, as do documentaries Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits, Haiti Betrayed and Aristide and the Endless Revolution.

    The Times article on Aristide’s ouster was part of a series on imperialism in Haiti the paper published on its front page over four days. “The Ransom” detailed the cost to Haiti — calculated at between $21 billion and $115 billion — of paying France to recognize its independence. “A bank created for Haiti funneled wealth to France” showed how Crédit Industriel et Commercial further impoverished the nation in the late 1800s while “Invade Haiti, Wall Street urged, And American military obliged” covered the brutal 1915–34 US occupation, which greatly reshaped its economy to suit foreign capitalists.

    The Times decision to spend tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of dollars on the series was no doubt influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement and the paper’s 1619 project on slavery. Additionally, Saint-Vil and other Haitian-North American activists have been calling for France to repay the ransom for more than two decades. In 2010 a group of mostly Canadian activists published a fake announcement indicating that France would repay the debt. Tied to France’s Bastille Day and the devastating 2010 earthquake, the stunt by the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (CRIME) forced Paris to deny it, which the Times reported. The group also published a public letter that garnered significant international attention.

    While these campaigns likely spurred the series, a number of academics made it about themselves. White Harvard professor Mary Lewis bemoaned that her research assistant was cited in “The Ransom” but she wasn’t. Another academic even apologized for sharing the important story. “I regret sharing the NYT article on Haiti yesterday. So many scholars are noting their egregious editorial practices. The writers of the article did not properly credit their sources.” Unfortunately, the academics’ tweets received thousands of likes.

    Leaving aside the pettiness of academia, the series is not without questions and criticisms. First, will the Times apply the historical logic of the series to its future coverage of Haiti or continue acting as a stenographer for the State Department? More directly, why didn’t the series mention the “Core Group” that largely rules Haiti today? The series is supposed to show how foreign intervention has contributed to Haitian impoverishment and political dysfunction, but the Times ignores a direct line between the 2004 coup and foreign alliance that dominates the country today.

    Last week Haitians protested in front of the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince. They chanted against the Core Group, which consists of representatives from the US, Canada, EU, OAS, UN, Spain, Brazil and France. A protester banged a rock on the gates. Previously, protesters have hurled rocks and molotov cocktails, as well as burned tires, in front of the Canadian Embassy.

    The Times series has solidified the historical narrative regarding the 2004 coup and popularized the history of imperialism in Haiti. The series is a boon to North Americans campaigning for a radical shift in policy towards a country born of maybe the greatest victory ever for equality and human dignity.

    But the point of activism is not simply to describe the world, but to change it.

    The post New York Times admits truth of Haitian coup first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The French Presidential Election

    [Do what you want but vote for Macron; Libération, 6 May 2017]

    The second round of the French Presidential election will be held on Sunday 24 April. The two front runners contesting the election from the first round are Emmanuel Macron (27.85%) and Marine Le Pen (23.15%). The left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came a close third (21.95%).

    Macron and Le Pen also met in the 2017 election, gaining 24.0% and 21.3% in the first round, with Macron winning decisively in the second round with two-thirds of the vote. It was extremely convenient for Macron that the front runner for the 2017 election, François Fillon (President Sarkozy’s Prime Minister, 2007-12), was found to have employed family members at public expense and for no recognisable work (emploi fictif) – a perennial practice but for which Fillon was found to be a culprit of some consequence.

    It will be closer this time, reflecting a protest vote against the incumbent President. Marine Le Pen (MLP) is a stayer, having run in the 2012 election, surprising pundits by coming third in the first round with 18% of the vote.

    Another facet of the 2022 election was the candidacy of journalist/author Éric Zemmour. Stridently anti-immigrant, and his interpretations of history controversial (for example, the treatment of the Jews under Vichy, 1940-45), he was given saturation media coverage – not least on billionaire Vincent Bolloré’s CNews. Zemmour’s star faded into fourth place with 7% of the vote – whose numbers will presumably flow to MLP.

    In the medium term, the rising votes for MLP are a protest not merely against Macron but also against his two predecessors in office and their two Parties – Nicolas Sarkozy (Union pour un mouvement populaire, now Les Républicains) and François Hollande (Parti socialiste).

    The previously formidable LR and the PS have now gone to the dogs, appropriately, with LR’s Valerie Pécresse getting 4.8% and PS’ Anne Hidalgo 1.7% in the first round. Getting under 5% means that the Parties aren’t reimbursed for their campaign expenses. Pécresse, as President of the Île-de-France Council, has demonstrated indifference and incompetence in office. Hidalgo, as mayor of Paris, has accumulated a huge debt – not least with madly acquiring the deadweight Olympic Games for Paris in 2024 as a means of leveraging her running for Presidential Office. Hidalgo is so much on the nose that in Paris itself she managed to garner only 2.17%.

    MLP heads the Rassemblement national, renamed in 2018 from the Front national (France creates and changes the names of its political parties with the weather). The universal qualifying adjective for the RN/FN is ‘far right’. The RN/FN policy agenda has varied, not least for opportunistic reasons, but the essential permanent planks are social conservatism and a hostility to (read African and/or Muslim) immigration. In respectable circles the Party and its adherents are the perennial subjects of vilification and condescension.

    Representative of the condescension is a July 2019 piece by academics Pablo de Orellana and Nicholas Michelsen. It’s a juxtaposition between the rational and enlightened (the governing class and its minders – of which us) and the irrational and ignorant. More, the latter are prone to invent and believe in ‘conspiracy theories’ – from which ‘we’ are entirely immune! The problem is that these people have the vote and that their numbers keep growing.

    The French far right’s traditional stamping ground is in the South-East. But the 2017 election saw MLP popular right across the North and North-East, a veritable brown tide (the felicitous expression is a “vague bleu Marine”) across a landscape of long term de-industrialisation. For 2022 votes by Departments, see here; for votes by Communes, see here. For example, in Pas-de-Calais, MLP obtained 38.7% of the vote. MLP herself is a Deputy since 2017 in one of Pas-de-Calais’ 12 Constituencies, along with three other RN Deputies. None of the 12 Constituencies presently has a left-wing Deputy – historically unprecedented. Moving East, MLP obtained 33% in the Somme, 39% in Aisne, 30% in Marne, 36% in Ardennes, 35% in Meuse, 27.5% in Meurthe-et-Moselle, 30% in Moselle, but losing to Macron in the far-East Bas-Rhin.

    The astute commentator François Asselineau (of the Union Populaire Républicaine Party) has noted that, in the first round, MLP arrived at the head of 20,036 Communes of 35,080 (57%), whereas Macron won 11,861 Communes (34%).

    Orellana and Michelsen acknowledge the tangible background to the dissent:

    These [New Right alliances] depend on the continued presence of grievances that directly affect people’s lives, particularly growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points.

    They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. … If their success is to be confronted, the basic grievances they claim to resolve will need to be addressed and solutions offered.

    But it isn’t going to happen, in France or elsewhere. These people are misguided trash and we’re not going to cater to them. Rather, the mainstream media (plus the ‘progressive’ media) have mounted a broadside against MLP and RN to ensure that France is rendered safe for the moment against the nasties. Representative is the online site Mediapart (originally created by a bloc of refugees from Le Monde). As per 2017, it devotes multiple articles to denigrating Mélenchon and his La France insoumise Party with the aim of keeping Mélenchon from the second round. With Mélenchon disposed of, Mediapart editorial (read Edwy Plenel) goes full bore against MLP and RN (corrupt, anti eco, anti worker, anti-Islam, etc. – and, worst of all, pro-Russia!), pretending that the always preferred candidate Macron is the journal’s reluctant choice by default.

    Nevertheless, Mediapart has in its stable admirable journalists – at least on French matters. On 14 April, the journal interviewed sociologist Didier Eribon (in French, paywall), who brings a close personal experience to the ascendancy of MLP and RN. Eribon notes that almost all his family have passed in less than ten years from voting Communist to voting FN. For Eribon’s mother, her vote has always been a protest vote. But underneath the continuity of protest there has been a profound transformation – from one background culture to another. The first involved industrial employment, membership of the communist-affiliated CGT union, communal solidarity built on workplace solidarity. The second involves unemployment or precarious employment, social isolation and desperation.

    Eribon lays special blame on the Parti socialiste in power from Mitterrand after 1983 but especially from the government of Lionel Jospin (1997-2002) onwards. The PS should have read the wind after Jospin, self-considered a shoe-in to the second round of the 2002 Presidential election against incumbent Jacques Chirac, was edged out by MLP’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen. But no. An incisive account of the PS’ ongoing self-deception is made by Serge Halimi in the June 2018 Le Monde Diplomatique (English, paywall).

    The PS’ neoliberal drift is reinforced by a new generation of intellectuals seeking to destroy the culture underpinning the long boom (“les trentes glorieuses”) in France, comprising academics, some industrialists and bankers, and journalists to sell the story. The establishment of the think tank la fondation Saint-Simon in 1982 encapsulated the onslaught. Sympathetic technocrats emanating from the École nationale d’administration, especially those ensconced in the Finance Ministry, completes the picture. As Eribon notes, Macron is the incarnation of this historical sequence.

    Emmanuel Macron is a cold fish, without empathy. In January 2017, I claimed that there was a touch of Chauncey Gardiner, the hollow character of Kozinski’s Being There, in Macron. But there is no malice in Gardiner. An expert has weighed in on this delicate subject. Dr Adriano Segatori, an Italian psychiatrist, has mercilessly decoded Macron’s persona. His presentation, in Italian with French subtitles, is here. An English translation of the essence of Segatori’s diagnosis is here. Macron displays the characteristics of a sociopath.

    A minor interaction with a ‘member of the public’ well reflects Macron’s mentality. The person, unemployed gardener, was anxious to improve his lot. Macron haughtily told him: “There are heaps of jobs, it’s necessary to find them! Hotels, cafés, restaurants, I can find you a job just by crossing the road”. Here’s the event recorded. Macron’s period in office is peppered with such arrogance and disdain for the hoi polloi.

    Macron was elevated into President Hollande’s administration and then into the Presidency courtesy of very well-connected patrons and mentors, supported by a private media dominated by very wealthy businessmen and by a compliant public media. Since 2017, private media ownership has become even more concentrated, with the bulk owned by five billionaires – Bernard Arnault (luxury goods), Vincent Bolloré (transport and logistics), Martin Bouygues (construction), Patrick Drahi (telecom) and Xavier Niel (telecom). Add the Dassault family, who have long held the dominant conservative paper Le Figaro, and Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, who in 2018 secretly bought a controlling interest in the iconic daily Le Monde. Macron faces no opposition from this coterie, other than pressure to hasten his neoliberal agenda.

    As Economy Minister under Hollande, Macron led the introduction of the loi Travail in August 2016 which weakened workplace rules and protections, including measures to ease employer rights to sackings and to lower sacked employee payouts. After widespread resistance, including in parliament, the law was imposed under section 49.3 of the Constitution, a draconian secret of the Fifth Republic never before used for such purposes. Here was Macron’s authoritarian character on full display.

    Once elected in 2017, Macron set about abolishing the wealth tax, the Impôt de solidarité sur la fortune (ISF). True, the tax was largely symbolic, and some wealthy were quitting the country. Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man, and in his maltreatment of employees having no sense of solidarity (vide François Ruffin’s documentary Merci patron!), threatened to clear out. Solidarity is also not in Macron’s makeup, as he had failed to report his sizeable earnings at Rothschild when becoming Economy Minister in 2014, lying about them, and thus avoiding his personal liability for the ISF.

    It is standard practice for neoliberal governments everywhere to cut taxes on the wealthy, to go easy on their tax evasion lurks, and then claim that fiscal prudence demands that arms of the ‘unsustainable’ welfare state be wound back (‘defense’ spending is, of course, off the table). This ruse is institutionalised in the EU, with Brussels pressuring national governments under the 1992 Maastricht strictures. In 2013, as Hollande’s economic adviser, Macron fostered the introduction of the Crédit d’impôt pour la compétitivité et l’emploi (CICE). This tax credit was granted in the claimed expectation that businesses would create a huge number of jobs. But the credit granted was in the form of relief on employer contributions to the social security fund. This mechanism was thus a direct redistributive vehicle from the welfare state to the well-off (the greatest beneficiaries were large corporates like the supermarkets). As President, Macron closed down the CICE at the end of 2018, but replacing it with a permanent comprehensive lowering of social security contributions by enterprises. The cost to the exchequer has been enormous, in tens of billions of euros, for estimated minor gains in employment generated from this poorly targeted measure.

    In the run-up to the 2022 election, Macron declared his candidacy belatedly and declined to campaign, declaring that his opponents didn’t deserve his attention. In any case, how could he run on his record?

    Macron’s obsession with enslaving wage labour has continued with his prolonged attempt to achieve ‘reform’ of the unemployment relief system (assurance-chômage). After two years of Macron trying, delayed partly by objections from no less than the authoritative Conseil d’État, the structure was belatedly installed in October 2021. The unemployed face lower payments, already derisory, and being readily ‘penalised’ – cut off from any payment for failure to adhere to impossible demands.

    The spontaneous and prolonged protests, in the form of the ‘yellow vests’ movement, against his contempt for struggle street have been met with brutal repression.

    Macron has nothing but disdain for public infrastructure. He has been happy to kowtow to Brussels’ demand to facilitate ‘competition’ in areas where natural monopolies prevail (electricity generation, transport). He presided over the cynical privatisation of Toulouse-Blagnac airport – a strategic public asset adjoining a major Airbus facility. He wanted to privatise the core Aeroports de Paris, but was forced to back off due to the public backlash.

    Macron has had no overall industry policy. He legitimised the scandalous selloff of Alstom Energy – the dominant part of the French flagship (fleuron) Alstom – see my articles here and here. The only beneficiaries have been vulture advisory law firms and banks. He overlooks ongoing de-industrialisation. He tacitly endorsed the predatory and anti-competitive takeover of Suez by Veolia.

    His election manifesto to instigate ‘the start-up nation’ appears formally to have had some success. Macron boasted of such in January. But a 23 February article in Le Canard Enchaîné is cautionary. Many start-ups are in flippant domains, and with minimum employment prospects. Those in substantive fields, like Exotec which makes small industrial robots, are rare. Insiders note that “The concept of a unicorn [start-up reaching a billion dollars in market valuation] rests on a sole criterion: the capacity of an individual to convince investors to hand over their money. That says nothing of the capacity of an enterprise to be profitable, of its social and environmental impact, of its employment generation capacity …”. Quite. To date, there is little to see here with respect to overall employment generation and regional township viability.

    Macron has consciously neglected the health system, subject to long term corporatisation and funding cuts. The ravages of Covid have seen no change of heart. Respected medicos have pleaded with the government for assistance, without effect. I wrote a short piece on the background to the health system crisis after the early months of Covid in June 2020. In early June 2020, France had witnessed 29,000 deaths attributed to Covid. Now the figure is over 144,000. Meanwhile the aged care system (ehpad), subject to the diabolical excesses of for-profit companies, remains a national disgrace.

    Macron’s interventions in both higher and secondary education are reactionary and divisive.

    His environmental record is heavy on rhetoric and devoid of substance.

    His administration has involved a series of scandals, none of which have rubbed off on him because of complicity of relevant institutions of state (in particular, the Parquet national financier). The placement of his income (essentially a gift from his patrons) from employment at Rothschild and the sources and extent of his 2017 campaign spending remain mysteries. Representative of the scandals are Macron’s employment and defense of bully boy Alexandre Benalla and the most recent disclosure of the fabulous sums spent on advisory firms (McKinsey in the first rank) in the outsourcing of public policy advice and operation.

    As for the European Union, Macron has done nothing to offset the ongoing dominance of the EU’s institutions by a selfish Germany. His duplicity and weakness, with Germany, in prevarication with respect to Ukraine’s non-compliance with the two Minsk Accords, and its implied subjugation to US imperatives, has facilitated the catastrophic outcome of the Russia-Ukraine war which we currently endure.

    Finally, Macron’s foreign policy has been quixotic and chaotic – most striking in France’s humiliating retreat from the Sahel – the work of an absolute novice.

    In short, Macron’s reign has been wretched. Macron deserves, like his predecessors Sarkozy and Hollande, to be consigned to irrelevance and to write his memoirs regarding his salutary role in public life.

    If re-elected for a second term (quinquennat), Macron’s first agenda will be unfinished business with the welfare state – ‘reform’ of the retirement system (retirement age pushed back from 62 to 65), against which he has also faced dogged resistance.

    Régis de Castelnau has been a long time lawyer turned legal scholar and commentator. He blogs at Vu du Droit. From an ‘old’ family, he has acted for clients on the left of the spectrum (due to lessons learned from working on the factory floor). However, his commentary is detached, unique and astute.

    de Castelnau notes:

    to vote for Macron for a non-renewable term will have him engage in open slather. We know his project. Social security and the retirement system will be dismantled to the profit of private pension funds. McKinsey will be charged at great expense to put it in place and those such as Blackrock will walk off with the loot. That which remains of French industry will be auctioned off, to the great pleasure of the investment banks organising the selloff. Our sovereignty will finish by being dismantled to the profit of a EU dominated by Germany, to whom we will acquiesce to share our seat on the UN Security Council and to access our nuclear force of dissuasion. The all of course in the name of a “European sovereignty” which doesn’t exist.  … At the end of these five next years, France will be unrecognisable and it will be irreversible.

    As with 2017, there is no satisfactory option. Some principled people have given notice that they intend to vote blank – an option ultimately to little effect unless tens of thousands demonstrate by such means their disgust. The French electoral system being non-compulsory, the abstention rate is a significant player – in the local vernacular, many choose to ‘go fishing’. In the 2022 first round, the abstention rate (voters relative to enrolled citizens) was a high 26.8%. There is a tug between those who call to come out in droves to keep ‘the fascists’ from gaining power and those individuals who can’t bring themselves to endorse either of the poxy alternatives.

    Whatever the outcome, France’s immediate future is guaranteed to be not much fun.

    The post The French Presidential Election first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    A Peculiar European “Peace”

    Building Europe to have peace. Such is the just and fine ambition that one must pursue relentlessly. Nevertheless, it is necessary to define ‘Europe’ and to specify the conditions for the peace that is desirable on our continent.

    For Europe is a continent. Only de Gaulle had envisaged Europe as a geopolitical ensemble composed of all the states participating in balance. François Mitterrand took up the idea in the form of a European confederation, but he too quickly abandoned it.

    Since 1945, what is presented as ‘Europe’, in the West of the continent, is only a subset of countries incapable by themselves of ensuring peace. One regularly hides its powerlessness behind proud slogans. Such is the case with that which affirms ‘Europe means Peace’. As a historical reality and as promise it is false.

    During the Cold War, it is not the organs of the Common Market, of the European Economic Community then of the European Union which have assured peace in Europe. It is well known that the equilibrium between the great powers has been maintained by nuclear dissuasion and, more precisely, by the potential for massive destruction possessed by the US, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France.

    NATO forces under American command offered Western Europe a fragile umbrella, since the US would not have put their very existence in jeopardy to prevent a very improbable land-based offensive by the Soviet Army. Ready for all possibilities but not prepared to pay the price of a classic confrontation, France, having left the integrated command of NATO in 1966, considered the territory of West Germany as a buffer zone for its Pluton nuclear-armed missiles.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union has pushed into the background the debates on nuclear dissuasion, but it is still not possible to glorify a ‘Europe’ pacific and peace-making. For thirty years we have seen the «peace of cemeteries» established on our periphery, and under the responsibility of certain members states of the European Union.

    The principal states of the EU carry an overwhelming responsibility in the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia. Germany, supported by the Vatican, unilaterally recognises Slovenia and Croatia on 23 December 1991, which pushes the then “Twelve” to follow this lethal route. France could have opposed this decision. It gives up this option because, on 15 December in Council, François Mitterrand reaffirms his conviction: it is more important to preserve the promises of Maastricht than to attempt to impose the French position on Yugoslavia. In other words, Yugoslavia has been deliberately sacrificed on the altar of “Franco-German friendship“, when one could already see that Berlin lied, manoeuvred and imposed its will. The German ambition was to support Croatia, including by the delivery of arms, in a war that would be pursued with a comparable cruelty by all the camps.

    The recognition of Slovenia and Croatia embroiled Bosnia-Herzegovina and provoked the extension of the conflict, then its internationalisation. Tears would be shed for Sarajevo while forgetting Mostar. Some Parisian intellectuals would demand, in the name of ‘Europe’, an attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, then comprising Serbia, Vojvodina, Kosovo and Montenegro. Their wish was granted in 1999 when NATO, under American commandment, bombed Yugoslav territory for 78 days, killing thousands of civilians. France, Germany, Italy, Belgium … participated in this military operation, in contempt of the UN Charter and of NATO statutes, an alliance theoretically defensive …

    Let no one pretend that the principal member states of the EU were waging humanitarian wars and wanted to assure economic development and democracy. ‘Europe’ has protested against ethnic cleansing by Serbs but has left the Croats to force out 200,000 Serbs from Krajina. ‘Europe’ waxes indignant about massacres in Kosovo but it has supported extremist ethnic Albanians of the Kosovo Liberation Army who have committed multiple atrocities before and after their arrival to power in Pristina.

    These Balkan wars occurred in the previous Century, but it is not ancient history. The countries devastated by war suffer henceforth the indifference of the powerful. In Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, one lives poorly, very poorly, if one is not involved in illegal business networks. Then one seeks work elsewhere, preferably in Germany, if one is not too old.

    After having mistreated, pillaged then abandoned its peripheries, ‘peaceful’ Europe then goes to serve as an auxiliary force in American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is true that Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron were in the forefront in the bombardment of Libya, but the outcome is as disastrous as in the Middle East and Central Asia – graveyards, chaos, the hate of the West and, at Kabul, the return of the Taliban.

    This brief review of the deadly inconsistencies of European pacificism cannot ignore Ukraine. The European Commission itself has encouraged the Ukrainian government in its quest for integration in the EU, before proposing a simple accord of association. The Ukrainian government, having declined to sign this accord, the pro-European groups allied to the ultranationalists have descended into the street in November 2013 with the support of Germany, Poland and the US. The Maidan movement, the eviction of President Yanukovych and the war of the Donbass have led, after the Minsk accords and a stalemate in the conflict to the situation that we have before our eyes in early January – the US and Russia discuss directly the Ukrainian crisis without the ‘Europe of peace’ being admitted to the negotiating table. The EU has totally subjugated itself to NATO and does not envisage leaving it.

    It is therefore possible to note, once again, the vacuity of the discourse on the ‘European power’ and on ‘European sovereignty’. Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we should acknowledge all the opportunities lost. After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, France could have demanded the withdrawal of American forces installed in Europe and proposed a collective security treaty for the entirety of the continent, while pursuing its project for a European Confederation. From Right to Left, our governments have preferred to cultivate the myth of the “Franco-German friendship”, leave the US to pursue its agenda after the upheaval of 2003, and then return to the integrated command of NATO.

    They offer us not peace but submission to war-making forces that they have given up trying to control.

    *****

    • Translated by Evan Jones (a francophile and retired political economist at University of Sydney) and is published here with permission from author.

    The post A Peculiar European “Peace” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Crisis in Ukraine is a Planetary Crisis Provoked by the U.S. that Threatens Nuclear War

    Let us begin a conversation in response to what currently qualifies as the most profound question, the one that needs most urgently to be addressed if we are to have any chance of understanding what we conveniently refer to as the “Ukraine crisis.” This is, more accurately, a planetary crisis—close in magnitude to the near-certainty of species extinction within the next century, but in some ways ahead of secondary catastrophes such as the obscene, raging inequality between peoples and nations unleashed by President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s, and the global conglomerations of immense corporate and plutocratic power.

    Why is it, then, that the three most important power alliances of the Western and Eurasian worlds—North America, led by the United States alongside its “Trudeauesque” poodle and with the problematic connivance of Mexico’s López Obrador; the European Union and post-Brexit UK; and the Russian Federation, in wobbly alliance with China—consider it worthwhile to suffer intensification of the risks of nuclear annihilation? This, in the face of an abundance of routes available for peaceful settlement, given a minimum of goodwill and genuine humanitarian concern?

    In the case of Russia, we know very well what these reasons are because Russia has told us—clearly, consistently, loudly, and transparently—for more than 15 years. First and foremost, Russia resents the West’s violation of its unmistakable and supremely important pledge to President Gorbachev in 1990 that the power of NATO would not move one further inch eastward. Secretary of State James Baker gave this commitment at least three times on February 9 that year. This was in return for Russian acquiescence to the tragic error of German reunification, paving the way for an accelerating renaissance of an aggressively militarized and potentially neo-Nazi European hegemon.

    President George H. W. Bush (left) with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker (right) in 1989. (Credit: theguardian.com)

    Yet in place of the 16 members of NATO that existed in 1990, we today have 30, and Ukraine is more and more desperately knocking on the door, conceivably to be followed by Georgia, Finland and Sweden. Current U.S. President Joe Biden, whose son enjoyed a senior place on the board of Ukraine energy giant Burisma, played a key role in that process of enlargement. The U.S. and Russia possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, around 4,000 each.

    But the United States has deployed its weapons far closer to Russia than Russia has deployed weapons close to the U.S. (each power also has fleets of nuclear submarines: in 2018 the U.S. had 14, against Russia’s 12). The United States has positioned nuclear defense/offense capabilities close to Russian borders in countries such as Poland and Romania. There are between 160 and 240 U.S. atomic bombs in NATO countries, of which 50 to 90 are stored in Turkey, a NATO member. Britain (225) and France (300) have their own sizeable nuclear arsenals.

    (Source: atlanticcouncil.org)

    Although it is commonly presumed that a nuclear exchange would quickly move from incremental (if there is any moderation at all) to massive, assessments as to how a nuclear war would actually pan out are extremely complicated for both technological and geopolitical reasons. It is not beyond comprehension that a conflict might be confined to so-called low-yield nuclear bombs or mini-nukes. Nor is it at all certain that nuclear weapons will all work as they are supposed to (in fact, it is reasonable to presume they will not). Many uncertainties attend the newest generation of hypersonic missiles. And the functionality of so-called missile defense systems is perhaps most of all in question.

    In addition, there is the issue of the weaponization of nuclear reactors, which is to say their conversion into weapons by missile or other form of strike, whether intentional or otherwise. There are 15 reactors in Ukraine, and another 123 in Europe. The U.S. has 93, Russia 38. Not least is the danger of nuclear accident, which almost certainly increases in the context of accelerating tensions between countries at least one of which possesses nuclear weapons or countries that can strike the nuclear facilities or reactors of other countries. There have been at least a dozen or so near misses since the U.S. dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

    Although their deliberate use by the United States that year is the only time that nuclear weapons have actually been fired in conflict, there have been many instances in which the use of nuclear weapons has been seriously considered. Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone, in their book The Untold History of the United States, relate several instances in which U.S. presidents have given serious consideration to their use. This featured in Winston Churchill’s Operation Unthinkable, formulated within weeks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It contemplated a nuclear strike against Soviet Russia.

    The Pentagon developed at least nine such first-strike nuclear war plans before the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949. The 1949 Dropshot plan envisaged 300 nuclear bombs and 20,000 tons of conventional bombs on 200 targets in 100 urban areas, including Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Fortunately, the U.S. did not have sufficient weaponry for the purpose at that time.

    (Source: express.co.uk)

    In the United States and its allies, Russia confronts an adversary which is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons on another, although this made little concrete difference to the outcome of the Second World War. This is also an adversary which has many times since considered using nuclear weapons again, which tolerates the acquisition of nuclear weapons by its closest allies (e.g., Britain, France, Israel) and bitterly opposes even the faintest possibility of their acquisition by its opponents (e.g., North Korea and Iran).

    It is an adversary which fails to keep even its most important promises (e.g., about not allowing NATO to expand), a country which abrogates important treaties (as did Bush in abrogating the ABM treaty in 2002), and which has crowned itself as the rightful hegemon, entitled to crush any power, global or regional, that would dare challenge its hegemonic status (as in the “Wolfowitz doctrine” 1992, progenitor of the Bush doctrine in 2002 by which the U.S. entitles itself to preemptive war).

    Paul Wolfowitz (Source: geopoliticsca.ru)

    The U.S.’s credibility in international relations is profoundly undermined by: a long history of invasions and occupations of other powers—most egregiously, perhaps, in the case of Afghanistan 2001-2021, or that of Iraq (2003-2021), which can be counted along with many dozens of other instances since World War Two; overt and covert military interventions, with or without the consent of legitimate authorities, often reckless and cruel; fomenting of regime-change “color revolutions” as in Ukraine 2004 and 2014; and universal meddling with elections and political processes as in the activities of organizations such as Cambridge Analytica, and its parent Strategic Communications Limited, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

    Not least is its equally long-established history of lying, just about everything, but particularly in matters of war. The Pentagon Papers, exposed by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 with respect to the Vietnam War, or the so-called Afghanistan Papers, gathered into book form by Craig Whitlock in 2021, should be sufficient cause for considerable alarm in this respect.

    There is a context here of a profound U.S.-led, multi-media and multi-targeted anti-Russia propaganda campaign that dates to the accession to the Russian presidency of Vladimir Putin in 1999-2000. It builds on previous relentless Cold War propaganda against the Soviet Union (which had us all thinking this titanic struggle was all about capitalism versus communism when it was really just about who could steal the most from the developing world), and on an even more distant anti-Russian campaign stretching back at least as far as the Crimean War of 1853-56—all chronicled by Gerald Sussmann, among others, in 2020.

    (Source: Russia-now.com)

    To this must now be added recent unfounded or presumptive anti-Russian harassment regarding an incessant and unlikely litany of all manner of accusations. These include the shooting down of MH17 in 2014; the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in 2018; purported collusion with Syrian President Assad over the use of chemical weapons; and, the most dramatic fable of all, alleged Russian hacking of DNC/DCCC servers and interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

    Russia has had every reason for deep distrust of the United States and its NATO and European allies. In addition, as I have chronicled elsewhere, we must take account of US/EU/NATO abetment to the illegal Euromaidan coup d’état of 2014 that was staged against a democratically elected president in 2014, just months away from scheduled elections, and whose muscle was provided by long-established Ukrainian neo-Nazi movements implicated in the assassinations of hundreds of protestors in Kiev and Odessa. To secure “legitimacy” and to stuff the coup legislature with their own people, the new leaders were obliged to ban the country’s major political parties, including the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party.

    Scene from the 2014 Euromaidan coup. (Source: inquiriesjournal.com)

    Terrified by the anti-Russian threats of the coup leaders, the largely pro-Russian population of Crimea (including Sebastopol, Russia’s major Black Sea port, held on long-lease from Ukraine and where Russia was entitled to maintain thousands of soldiers) voted to secede from Ukraine and to seek annexation by Russia.

    In the significantly pro-Russian Donbass, citizens established the independent republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Kiev has never deigned to negotiate directly with the republics, with its own citizens, but has instead, having lost the initial war, violently subjected residents to extensive shelling (with most of the casualties taking place in the republics) and spitefully withdrawn all social security protections.

    Workers bury the dead in Slovyansk in Eastern Ukraine where mass graves were found (Source: hrw.org)

    The republics did not seek annexation by Russia, nor did Russia entertain annexation. Instead, Russia negotiated the Minsk agreements through the “Normandy Round” in 2015-2016. This sought and agreed to greater autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk within Ukraine. Unwilling or unable to combat its neo-Nazi extremists, Kiev proved unable to implement Minsk, nor did the international community, other than Russia, exert pressure on Kiev to make it happen.

    It would have taken unusual credulity and naivety on the part of Russian leaders not to have concluded by 2022 that the U.S. and, with some exceptions, its NATO and EU allies, were resolutely and unforgivingly hostile to Russia.

    Russia, having explored the possibility of accession to NATO in the 1990s and been rejected, resigned to the provocative continuation of NATO not just beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union—the very reason for NATO’s existence—but even beyond the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. It has been targeted close to its borders by U.S./NATO nuclear weapons that are mockingly and ludicrously described as defenses against Iran’s (non-existent) nuclear missiles, and routinely humiliated and threatened by massive annual NATO military exercises along its borders and the Black Sea.

    Members of the U.S. Marine Corps perform military exercise in (now Russian-occupied) Kherson on July 28, 2021 (Source: reuters.com)

    Further, it has to listen to Ukrainian President and former clown Volodymyr Zelensky plead for speedier access of Ukraine to NATO membership (extending just days ago to a demand for the placement of nuclear weapons in Ukraine) and for a no-fly zone.

    As such it could have had no reasonable hope ever to be freed of the scourge of U.S./EU/NATO salivation for the break-up of the Russian Federation and unregulated freedom for Western capital, as prelude to the Western world’s ultimate confrontation with China.

    Whether Russian military exercises on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine from the end of 2021 were intended from the beginning as a platform for invasion is not clear. The invasion may have been provoked by the intensification of Ukrainian army assaults against the Donbass.

    Incessant, even hysterical, U.S. warnings of a Russian invasion may themselves have provoked exactly that outcome if it seemed to Russia that the United States was determined to stage any kind of provocation that would have made it impossible for Russia to resist.

    Presuming, surely correctly, that the U.S./NATO has long expected and salivated for a conflict that would provide sufficient pretext for the extermination of the Russian Federation, Russia decided on a measure of preemptive advantage at a singular moment when Russia possibly enjoys nuclear superiority over the West because of its further advance (at budgets a small fraction of those enjoyed by its adversary, whose military procurement practices are rife with corruption) of hypersonic missiles and a developing alliance with China.

    Putin has indicated willingness to keep moving until Russia conquers the entire territory of Ukraine. The more he can acquire, the more he can negotiate with. At the time of writing the areas under control resemble the buffer zone created by Turkey along its border with northwestern Syria and by the U.S. along Syria’s northeastern border. This seizure of the land of a sovereign nation to add to Turkish security from what it regards as the Kurdish threat, and which it is using to hold the most extremist jihadist groups that the West and others have exploited in their efforts to destabilize the Syrian government, did not occasion the squeals of indignation from Western media that we now hear from them with regard to Ukraine.

    Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine as of March 1, 2022 (Source: bbc.com)

    Nor did the U.S. grab for Syria’s oil fields, and for its most fertile agricultural land, under proxy Kurdish control. And when the refugees from the U.S. wars of choice in Iraq, Syria and Libya reached the gates of Europe they were inhumanely humiliated and turned away (even allowing for a surprising measure of German generosity). Unlike whiter refugees from Ukraine into Poland and other neighbors. The oozing hypocrisy of Western self-righteousness is merely par for the course.

    These considerations therefore help us to understand Russian preparedness to risk nuclear conflict. Indeed, it is possible that for Russia there is now no going back on the path to potential Armageddon. The decision to avert catastrophe has been thrown resolutely into the Western court. But what about the U.S. and its European allies? They are not in too great a hurry for the ultimate wet dream of Russian dissolution, although sooner would likely be more gratifying than later. For the moment, the conflict is well worth it, for as long as it is only Ukrainians who pay the ultimate price. Zelensky’s greatest folly has been to recklessly offer his country and its people as ground zero for World War Three.

    Volodymyr Zelensky (Source: marca.com)

    Short-term benefits for the West include a potential fillip to Joe Biden’s otherwise steep decline in domestic popularity. War has been the eternal answer to internal instability. It is too soon to say that the Ukraine crisis will help bridge the gulf between Democrats and Republicans, but there is a chance of some measure of healing, perhaps just enough to weaken the hold of the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party.

    This in turn could be deeply reassuring to the military-industrial complex (or, as Ray McGovern calls it, the MICIMATT—the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academic-think tank complex) whose distrust for Trump’s wavering on Putin provided fertile ground for the success of the Clinton campaign’s fabrication of the Russiagate saga.

    Although Biden followed up on a shockingly incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021—alongside signs of a final exit from Iraq and from Syria—with a multi-billion dollar increase in the military budget, he has since advocated a further increase of 8% in 2022-2023.

    Since this is close to the rate of inflation, the weapons lobby will doubtless require another 4% or so, if they are being modest (unlikely), and a sharp increase in European tension will not only boost their cause for a further budget increase but will greatly incentivize the demand for weapons for years to come.

    The bloated U.S. 17-agency Intelligence community and its underworld of private contractors will be delighted that, for the first time in a generation, their intelligence (on the Russian invasion, at least) has been perceived by many to be correct, and that, for the first time in a generation, it is not a U.S. war of choice that must be lied about. Such a glorious moment of self-righteousness will go far in the propaganda business. So long as Intelligence can manipulate and coopt corporate, plutocratic, mainstream media, the extent and depth of previous U.S. evils need never prove an obstacle to beating the drums for perpetual war. The mainstream media can be relied upon to foreshorten the narrative, pull in the context, focus on only one side, demonize and personalize. Intelligence will always help with fabrication of what counts as “real.”

    The Ukraine crisis upends the energy markets in a way that puts even broader smiles on the faces of fossil-fuel bosses. The forced closure of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to the rest of Europe will create an involuntary European appetite for (more expensive) U.S. LNG exports.

    (Source: nationalworld.com)

    The brunt of energy price increases will be suffered more by Europe than by the United States. Combined with growing European dependence on the U.S., the impoverishment of Europe is to the U.S.’s advantage, under the scope of the Wolfowitz doctrine, and sustains the buffer between Russia and the continental U.S. Pressure on the U.S. to return to a policy of self-sufficiency in energy will reinvigorate public tolerance for fracking and drilling, for pipelines and spills and fires (if the world is going to end in any case.).

    On the downside, from a U.S. perspective, higher energy prices will boost the Russian economy and sustain its servicing of Chinese and other Asian markets, provided they can work around U.S. sanctions (they will).

    Ukraine is a test of Chinese resolve in its move toward Russia, reminding it of the economic threats to Chinese interests from U.S. sanctions in countries of the Belt and Road initiative. But this will not be sufficient to shift China from what must surely be its conclusion that the United States is irredeemably wedded to the vision of a perpetually unipolar U.S. world.

    In Europe, the crisis will help Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson escape decapitation over the embarrassment of the “Partygate” scandal. It has already enhanced President Macron’s bid to appear statesmanlike in the face of upcoming elections in April, and his ability to ward off threats from the extreme right. But mainly, the crisis will benefit Germany which, in recent years, has broken free of its punitive post-war chains not only to burnish its long-established economic primacy but to rebuild and modernize its military, and to send arms to Ukraine. The sleazy proto-fascist governments of several new East European and former Soviet Union governments will feel similarly enabled and justified.

    But all these short-term outcomes notwithstanding, nobody should discount the possibility, short of a robust peace agreement, of nuclear war. If not a nuclear war, then prepare for a protracted global recession, if not depression.

    The sorrowful-but-gritty public faces of Europe’s equivalent to MICIMATT—Europe’s financial, plutocratic, military and intelligence elites—are President of the European Union Ursula von der Leyen, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron, it will be their faces we need to first scrutinize for a heads-up as to whether, finally, there is to be a public climb-down in the face of Russia’s nuclear checkmate. For that, indeed, is what it appears to be.

    • First published in CovertAction Magazine

    The post The Crisis in Ukraine is a Planetary Crisis Provoked by the U.S. that Threatens Nuclear War first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    As ‘La Françafrique’ Comes to an End, Russia is Ready To Replace France in West Africa 

    Finally, France will be leaving Mali, nearly a decade after the original military intervention in 2013. The repercussions of this decision will hardly be confined to this West African nation, but will likely spread to the entirety of the Sahel Region; in fact, the whole of Africa.

    France’s decision to end its military presence in Mali – carried out in two major military operations, Operation Serval and Operation Barkhane – was communicated by French President, Emmanuel Macron. “Victory against terror is not possible if it’s not supported by the state itself,” Macron said on February 16.

    The French President called the Malian leadership “out of control” and rationalized his decision as a necessary move, since “European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them.”

    “Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks, we cannot continue like this,” Macron added.

    Macron is not fooling anyone. The French military intervention in Mali was justified at the time as part of France’s efforts to defeat ‘Jihadists’ and ‘terrorists’, who had taken over much of the country’s northern region. Indeed, northern militants, protesting what they have described as government negligence and marginalization, had then seized major cities, including Kidal and Timbuktu. But the story, as is often the case with France’s former African colonies, was more complex.

    In a recent article, the New York Times said that France’s “diplomatic power” is predicated on three pillars: “its influence in its former African colonies, along with its nuclear arms and its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.”

    Mali is one of these ‘former French colonies’, largely located in what used to be called ‘French West Africa.’ Once a great kingdom, known as the Mandinka Empire, Mali was colonized by France in 1892. It was then renamed French Sudan. Though it gained its independence in 1958, Mali remained a French vassal state.

    To appreciate French influence over Mali and other West African states long after their independence, consider that fourteen African countries, including Niger and Senegal, continue to use the West African CFA franc, a French monetary invention in 1945, which ensured the struggling African economies continued to be tied to the French currency. This has allowed Paris to wield tremendous influence over various African economies, whose resources were provided to their former colonizers at competitive prices.

    Unsurprisingly, France took the leadership in ‘liberating’ Mali in 2013. Hence, France was able to reconfigure the region’s militaries and politics to remain under the direct control of France, which presented itself as West Africa’s savior in the face of terrorism. Chad, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Togo, all participated in the French-led operation, which also involved the United Nations and several Western powers.

    The arrival of French soldiers to the Sahel region was meant to underscore the importance, if not indispensability, of France to Africa’s security, especially at a time that Africa was, once again, a contested space that attracted the continent’s old colonial powers and new political players, as well: Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, among others.

    However, for the people of Mali, the intervention merely prolonged their misery. “Operation Serval”, meant to last a few weeks, carried on for years, amid political strife in Bamako, worsening security throughout the country, rising corruption and deepening poverty. Though initially welcomed, at least publicly by some in the south of the country, the French military quickly became a burden, associated with Mali’s corrupt politicians, who happily leased the country’s resources in exchange for French support.

    The honeymoon is now over. On January 31, the Malian government ordered the French Ambassador to leave the country.

    Though Macron pledged that his military withdrawal will be phased out based on France’s own outline, the Malian leadership, on February 17, demanded  an immediate and unconditional French withdrawal. Paris continues to insist that its Mali decision is not a defeat, and that it cannot be compared to the US chaotic retreat from Afghanistan last August, all indications point that France is, indeed, being expunged from one of its most prized ‘spheres of influence’. Considering that a similar scenario is currently underway in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), France’s geopolitical concessions in Africa can aptly be described as unprecedented.

    While Western countries, along with a few African governments, are warning that the security vacuum created by the French withdrawal will be exploited by Mali’s militants, Bamako claims such concerns are unfounded, arguing that the French military presence has exasperated – as opposed to improving – the country’s insecurity.

    The particular parallel between Mali and C.A.R. becomes even more interesting when we consider media and official reports suggesting that the two African nations are substituting French with Russian soldiers, further accentuating the rapid geopolitical shift in the continent.

    Though Macron continues to argue that the shift is induced mostly by his country’s own strategic priorities, neither evidence on the ground, nor France’s own media seem to believe such claims. “It is an inglorious end to an armed intervention that began in euphoria and which ends, nine years later, against a backdrop of crisis,” wrote Le Monde on February 17.

    The truth is that an earth-shattering development is under way in Mali and the whole of West Africa, ushering in, as argued in the NY Times, the “closing chapters of ‘la Françafrique’,” the centuries-long French dominance over its ‘sphere of influence’ in the resource-rich Africa.

    Though ‘la Françafrique’ is possibly coming to an end, the geopolitical tussle in Africa is merely heating up. While some powers will benefit and others will lose, the West African populations are unlikely to reap many benefits from the ‘scramble’ over the region’s resources. Caught between corrupt elites and greedy global powers, African nations will not be enjoying real security or economic prosperity any time soon.

    The post As ‘La Françafrique’ Comes to an End, Russia is Ready To Replace France in West Africa  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Tapping Fortress Australia: Priti Patel’s Border Force Review

    When in opposition, Alexander Downer, destined to become Australia’s longest serving foreign minister in the conservative government of John Howard, was easy to savage.  The Australian Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating was particularly keen to skewer an establishment individual prone to donning fishnet stockings and affecting a plummy disposition.  Never, he suggested, had there been a more conceited piece of fairy floss ever put on a stick.

    During the Howard years, Downer served in the role of a position that has become all but irrelevant, outsourced as it is to the US State Department and the fossil fuel lobby.  It was during that time that Australia supercharged its draconian approach to refugees and border security, repelling naval arrivals and creating a network of concentration camps that has since been marketed to the world.  The UK Home Affairs Minister Priti Patel is positively potty for it but has only managed to adopt aspects of the “Australian model”, including the relocation of arrivals to offshore facilities and co-opting the Royal Navy in an intercepting role.

    Efforts to use third countries to process asylum claims have been frustrated, though Patel has opted for a legislative route in stymieing the process and limiting the settlement rights of unwanted migrants.  While she has authorised the use of push backs on paper, these have yet to take place and are the subject of a legal challenge by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and charity, Care4Calais.

    The government of Boris Johnson has made something of a habit in mining the old quarry of Australian conservative politics.  Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was approved for a role as trade advisor for Global Britain, an appointment which did not sit well with critics worried that a reactionary dinosaur had been brought into the fold.  With Abbott offering advice, Global Britain risked becoming a Nostalgic Britannia of pink gins and wallahs, Union Jack flying high.

    Downer, for his part, has settled into the soft furnishings of British public life, occupying the role of High Commissioner for some years, becoming a presence around Australia House and King’s College, London as founding chairman of the international school of government.  Evidently, he is regarded as very clubbable, a member of the Royal Over-Seas League and chairman of trustees at the right wing think tank, Policy Exchange.

    Of late, he has been tapped to undertake a review of Britain’s border forces, a task he is likely to relish.  In this field, reform can only mean a few things: harsher policies, hardened feelings, and the tweaking, if not total circumvention, of international law.  The number of migrants attempting to make the crossing from France in 2021 was estimated to be 28,431.  In 2020, it was 8,417.  There are fears in the Home Office that the number could reach 65,000.  A siege mentality has well and truly seeded.

    A statement from the Home Office noted Patel’s commissioning of “a wide-ranging, independent review of our Border Force to assess its structure, powers, funding and priorities to ensure it can keep pace with rapidly evolving threats and continue to protect the border, maintain security and prevent illegal migration.”

    Patel doesn’t stoop to considering the right to asylum, or the safety and welfare of those making the crossing.  It’s all security and border protection.  “Since Border Force was set up in 2011, its remit has grown to meet the changing border threats we face, and in recent years has supported delivery of the government’s Brexit commitments and COVID-19 measures.”

    According to statements from the UK government, Downer was “delighted” to be leading the review, one mislabelled as independent.  “As an independent reviewer, I plan to lead a review that is robust, evidence-based and outcome-orientated.”

    Downer is unlikely to be troubled by the evidence.  For him, the outcomes are already determined and bound to offer Patel comfort.  The clue was in a piece written for the Daily Mail last September openly praising Patel’s efforts.  Despite the Home Secretary being “widely ridiculed on both sides of the Channel … I know that a ‘push-back’ policy can work.”  Never one for the finer details, the Australian suggested a sly approach verging on deception.  “My advice to Ms Patel would be to introduce a ‘push-back’ policy without fanfare, and to keep the French informed on a need-to-know basis only”.

    The views of those at the Policy Exchange think tank are also shot through with such presumption. In a report released on February 16, the authors consider the need for a “Plan B” which would involve removing people attempting to enter the UK on small craft “to a location outside the UK – whether the Channel Islands, Sovereign Bases in Cyprus or Ascension Island – where their asylum claims would be considered.”  Ideally, “Plan A” would involve the French shouldering the responsibility of preventing the arrivals in the first place.

    Downer’s anti-refugee resume is long, though he seems to have been overly credited with the copyright of the original Pacific Solution implemented by the Howard government from 2001.  The same goes for the general policy of turning vessels laden with asylum seekers and refugees back to Indonesia and potential watery graves.  That said, he was an important figure in leading negotiations with countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea, both becoming indispensably bribed in aiding Canberra’s sadistic solution.

    This is enough to have the PCS worried.  One spokesperson noted Downer’s role as “a prime architect of Australia’s inhumane immigration policy” claiming that his recent support for the push back solution made “him a wholly inappropriate choice to lead this review”.  General Secretary Mark Serwotka has also expressed his opposition to any push back policy “on moral and humanitarian grounds, and we will not rule out industrial action to prevent it being carried out.”

    The one saving grace in this needless review with pre-determined findings is the difficulty Britain faces in implementing any turn-back policy that does not violate international law.  French officials are incessant in reminding their British counterparts about that fact.  And without French cooperation in this endeavour, any proposed harshness will be mitigated.

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    Britain helped create the refugees it now wants to keep out

    The deaths of at least 27 people who drowned as they tried to cross the Channel in an inflatable dinghy in search of asylum have quickly been overshadowed by a diplomatic row engulfing Britain and France.

    As European states struggle to shut their borders to refugees, the two countries are in a war of words over who is responsible for stopping the growing number of small boats trying to reach British shores. Britain has demanded the right to patrol French waters and station border police on French territory, suggesting that France is not up to the job. The French government, meanwhile, has blamed the UK for serving as a magnet for illegal workers by failing to regulate its labour market.

    European leaders are desperate for quick answers. French President Emmanuel Macron called an emergency meeting of regional leaders a week ago to address the “migration” crisis, though Britain’s home secretary, Priti Patel, was disinvited.

    Britain’s post-Brexit government is readier to act unilaterally. It has been intensifying its “hostile environment” policy towards asylum seekers. That includes plans to drive back small boats crossing the Channel, in violation of maritime and international law, and to “offshore” refugees in remote detention camps in places such as Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic. UK legislation is also being drafted to help deport refugees and prosecute those who aid them, in breach of its commitments under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

    Not surprisingly, anti-immigration parties are on the rise across Europe, as governments question the legitimacy of most of those arriving in the region, calling them variously “illegal immigrants”, “invaders” and “economic migrants”.

    The terminology is not only meant to dehumanise those seeking refuge. It is also designed to obscure the West’s responsibility for creating the very conditions that have driven these people from their homes and on to a perilous journey towards a new life.

    Power projection

    In recent years, more than 20,000 refugees are estimated to have died crossing the Mediterranean in small boats to reach Europe, including at least 1,300 so far this year. Only a few of these deaths have been given a face – most notably Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on the Turkish coast in 2015 after he and others in his family drowned on a small boat trying to get to Europe.

    The numbers trying to reach the UK across the Channel, though smaller, are rising too – as are the deaths. The 27 people who drowned two weeks ago were the single largest loss of life from a Channel crossing since agencies began keeping records seven years ago. Barely noted by the media was the fact that the only two survivors separately said British and French coastguards ignored their phone calls for help as their boat began to sink.

    But no European leader appears ready to address the deeper reasons for the waves of refugees arriving on Europe’s shores – or the West’s role in causing the “migration crisis”.

    The 17 men, seven women, including one who was pregnant, and three children who died were reportedly mostly from Iraq. Others trying to reach Europe are predominantly from Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and parts of North Africa.

    That is not accidental. There is probably nowhere the legacy of western meddling – directly and indirectly – has been felt more acutely than the resource-rich Middle East.

    The roots of this can be traced back more than a century, when Britain, France and other European powers carved up, ruled and plundered the region as part of a colonial project to enrich themselves, especially through the control of oil.

    They pursued strategies of divide and rule to accentuate ethnic tensions and delay local pressure for nation-building and independence. The colonisers also intentionally starved Middle Eastern states of the institutions needed to govern after independence.

    The truth is, however, that Europe never really left the region, and was soon joined by the United States, the new global superpower, to keep rivals such as the Soviet Union and China at bay. They propped up corrupt dictators and intervened to make sure favoured allies stayed put. Oil was too rich a prize to be abandoned to local control.

    Brutal policies

    After the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago, the Middle East was once again torn apart by western interference – this time masquerading as “humanitarianism”.

    The US has led sanctions regimes, “shock and awe” air strikes, invasions and occupations that devastated states independent of western control, such as Iraq, Libya and Syria. They may have been held together by dictators, but these states – until they were broken apart – provided some of the best education, healthcare and welfare services in the region.

    The brutality of western policies, even before the region’s strongmen were toppled, was trumpeted by figures such as Madeleine Albright, former US President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state. In 1996, when asked about economic sanctions that by then were estimated to have killed half a million Iraqi children in a failed bid to remove Saddam Hussein, she responded: “We think the price is worth it.”

    Groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State quickly moved in to fill the void that was left after the West laid waste to the economic and social infrastructure associated with these authoritarian governments. They brought their own kind of occupation, fragmenting, oppressing and weakening these societies, and providing additional pretexts for meddling, either directly by the West or through local clients, such as Saudi Arabia.

    States in the region that so far have managed to withstand this western “slash and burn” policy, or have ousted their occupiers – such as Iran and Afghanistan – continue to suffer from crippling, punitive sanctions imposed by the US and Europe. Notably, Afghanistan has emerged from its two-decade, US-led occupation in even poorer shape than when it was invaded.

    Elsewhere, Britain and others have aided Saudi Arabia in its prolonged, near-genocidal bombing campaigns and blockade against Yemen. Recent reports have suggested that as many as 300 Yemeni children are dying each day as a result. And yet, after decades of waging economic warfare on these Middle Eastern countries, western states have the gall to decry those fleeing the collapse of their societies as “economic migrants”.

    Climate crisis

    The fallout from western interference has turned millions across the region into refugees, forced from their homes by escalating ethnic discord, continued fighting, the loss of vital infrastructure, and lands contaminated with ordnance. Today, most are languishing in tent encampments in the region, subsisting on food handouts and little else. The West’s goal is local reintegration: settling these refugees back into a life close to where they formerly lived.

    But the destabilisation caused by western actions throughout the Middle East is being compounded by a second blow, for which the West must also take the lion’s share of the blame.

    Societies destroyed and divided by western-fuelled wars and economic sanctions have been in no position to withstand rising temperatures and ever-longer droughts, which are afflicting the Middle East as the climate crisis takes hold. Chronic water shortages and repeated crop failures – compounded by weak governments unable to assist – are driving people off their lands, in search of better lives elsewhere.

    In recent years, some 1.2 million Afghans were reportedly forced from their homes by a mix of droughts and floods. In August, aid groups warned that more than 12 million Syrians and Iraqis had lost access to water, food and electricity. “The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” said Carsten Hansen, the regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

    According to recent research, “Iran is experiencing unprecedented climate-related problems such as drying of lakes and rivers, dust storms, record-breaking temperatures, droughts, and floods.” In October, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies noted that climate change was wreaking havoc in Yemen too, with extreme flooding and an increased risk of waterborne diseases.

    Western states cannot evade their responsibility for this. Those same countries that asset-stripped the Middle East over the past century also exploited the resulting fossil-fuel bonanza to intensify the industrialisation and modernisation of their own economies. The US and Australia had the highest rates of fossil fuel consumption per capita in 2019, followed by Germany and the UK. China also ranks high, but much of its oil consumption is expended on producing cheap goods for western markets.

    The planet is heating up because of oil-hungry western lifestyles. And now, the early victims of the climate crisis – those in the Middle East whose lands provided that oil – are being denied access to Europe by the very same states that caused their lands to become increasingly uninhabitable.

    Impregnable borders

    Europe is preparing to make its borders impregnable to the victims of its colonial interference, its wars and the climate crisis that its consumption-driven economies have generated. Countries such as Britain are not just worried about the tens of thousands of applications they receive each year for asylum from those who have risked everything for a new life.

    They are looking to the future. Refugee camps are already under severe strain across the Middle East, testing the capacities of their host countries – Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq – to cope.

    Western states know the effects of climate change are only going to worsen, even as they pay lip service to tackling the crisis with a Green New Deal. Millions, rather than the current thousands, will be hammering on Europe’s doors in decades to come.

    Rather than aiding those seeking asylum in the West, the 1951 Refugee Convention may prove to be one of the biggest obstacles they face. It excludes those displaced by climate change, and western states are in no hurry to broaden its provisions. It serves instead as their insurance policy.

    Last month, immediately after the 27 refugees drowned in the Channel, Patel told fellow legislators that it was time “to send a clear message that crossing the Channel in this lethal way, in a small boat, is not the way to come to our country.”

    But the truth is that, if the British government and other European states get their way, there will be no legitimate route to enter for those from the Middle East whose lives and homelands have been destroyed by the West.

    • First published in Middle East Eye

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    Will Charter Schools Improve Education in France?

    Charter by definition means contract, a legally binding agreement between two or more parties to do or not do something within a specified period of time. Typically, contracts also enshrine a set of rewards and punishments.

    Contracts are the quintessential market category. They govern how relations work in the marketplace and ensure exchange relations occupy center-stage in contemporary capitalist societies. Contracts are a key mechanism used often to outsource and privatize public services, programs, and enterprises. Contracting, especially in the neoliberal period, is a way to expand the claims of private interests on public funds, assets, and authority while restricting the claims of the public to public funds, assets, and authority.

    Charter schools are contract schools. They are outsourced privatized schools that use public money that belongs to public schools.1  Charter schools are not public schools in the proper sense of the word. In the U.S., for example, charter schools differ dramatically from public schools. Among other things, charter schools are run by unelected individuals, cannot levy taxes, are not state agencies, oppose unions, frequently hire many uncertified teachers, spend a lot on advertising, are exempt from numerous public laws, and are often run openly as for-profit entities. They also have a very high failure rate: five thousand charter schools have closed since their inception in 1991.2 Financial malfeasance, mismanagement, and poor academic performance are the three most common reasons nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close regularly in the U.S., leaving many minority families out in the cold.

    The relentless pressure of the law of the falling rate of profit is forcing major owners of capital in more countries to use the state to establish and expand privately-operated charter schools as a way to counteract the inescapable decline in the rate and mass of profit. Owners of capital see the public education budget as a large pool of money they can seize in the context of a continually failing economy.

    Presently, the U.S. is home to the largest number of charter schools in the world, with about 7,400 privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools strewn across the country. Only about half a dozen other countries have privately-operated charter schools and none have close to the number of charter schools found in the U.S.

    France, a major European country, is now considering establishing privately-operated charter schools. Unlike the U.S., France has long enshrined the claim to public education in its constitution. Unlike many constitutions, the U.S. constitution does not even contain the word education in it. For 60 years, however, France has also funneled enormous sums of public money to private Catholic schools so long as these schools hire state-certified teachers and use the national curriculum. “About 15 percent of France’s primary and secondary schools fall into this category,” says the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education.

    Valérie Pécresse is presently the candidate of the Republicans for France’s presidential election in April 2022. She is described as the first woman nominated by the Republicans as a presidential candidate. The New York Times reports that Pécresse, 54, is “the current leader of the Paris region and a former national minister of the budget and then higher education, has risen to second place behind Mr. Macron in the polls among likely voters in the election”

    Among other things, Pécresse is described as a right-winger who proudly and publicly declares that she is inspired by Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Britain who vigorously promoted a neoliberal outlook and agenda at home and abroad.

    Recently, Pécresse proposed establishing charter schools in France. According to a November 30, 2021, article in the French newspaper LeMonde:

    In outlining the educational platform for her presidential candidacy in a speech in Venoy (Yonne) on October 12, Valérie Pécresse proposed transforming 10 percent of the nation’s public schools into “a new kind of public school under contract, inspired by ‘charter schools’ found in England and Sweden.” These schools, which would be primarily located in marginalized neighborhoods, would benefit, Pécresse declared, from the managerial autonomy currently exercised in France by private schools under contract, which account for 15 percent of the nation’s 60,000 primary and secondary schools. In these charter schools, “enrollment will depend on parents and students abiding by a charter of commitment.

    To add insult to injury, Pécresse seems to favor the infamous and heavily-criticized “no-excuses” charter school model found in the U.S. These schools are so authoritarian that they have had to rebrand themselves to project a “softer” and more humane public image.

    While Pécresse is often described as a right-winger, this may make very little difference in the scheme of things because the ruling elite are comfortable using politicians of all stripes to advance the neoliberal antisocial offensive. In the U.S., for example, both Democrats and Republicans have been long-time supporters of privately-operated charter schools that siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools. The main point is that the idea of privately-operated charter schools is now out there and the door has been opened to introducing them in the future.

    France would do well to learn from the negative experience of other countries with “autonomous” charter schools, especially the U.S. and New Zealand. Privately-operated charter schools not only possess the non-public features listed above, they also intensify segregation, reduce accountability, and increase corruption. In addition, they leave public schools and the public sector with less money to function and excel. They also reinforce the ideologies of consumerism, competition, and individualism. Charter school advocates and operators treat parents and students as consumers, not humans or citizens. They promote the illusion that education is a business, not a social responsibility that society must guarantee for all for free. Treating a social responsibility like education as a business opportunity has been a disaster for people nationally and internationally.

    The new year should be a time for all forces in all countries to renew and step up their demands for an end to the commodification of education. Governments around the world must take up their social responsibility to provide people’s rights, including the right to an education, with a guarantee in practice. No one should have to fend for themselves when it comes to securing a high quality education in the 21st century.

    1. Workers (along with nature) are the only source of wealth. All funds used to run public enterprises and the entire society come from the labor-time of workers. Wealth is not produced by owners of capital.
    2. See “5,000 Charter Schools Closed in 30 Years” (2021) here.
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