Why Is France Pushing So Hard On Syria?

France Plans Carbon Tax, Atomic Cap in $27 Billion Energy Shift

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau PARIS | Wed Sep 18, 2013 2:33pm BST PARIS (Reuters) – French airline Air France announced 2,800 fresh job cuts on Wednesday to help cope with weak air travel demand as it heads towards its sixth consecutive annual operating loss. The carrier said it would no longer reach its target to break even this year, but said it was “imperative” to achieve that in 2014. “We are in a period of weak demand,” Chief Executive Frederic Gagey told a news conference. “We have felt the full brunt of the cyclicality of air transport.” Air France, part of Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA), said it would begin negotiations with staff representatives from October 4 on new voluntary departure plans to cut an expected staff surplus for next year. Air France has been hurt by the impact of Europe’s economic woes on demand for air travel, soaring fuel costs, and aggressive competition from low-cost carriers in the region and Gulf carriers on long-haul routes. The head of rival IAG (ICAG.L), parent of British Airways and Spain’s Iberia, Willie Walsh, said on Tuesday that European airlines would have to cut costs at their short-haul businesses to compete with budget airlines or struggle to stay aloft. Traditional network carriers are cutting jobs, renegotiating staff contracts and dropping uncompetitive routes. Air France is already cutting around 5,120 out of 49,300 staff on French contracts by the end of 2013 as part of plans unveiled in June last year. Air France added on Wednesday that it would further reduce capacity on French point-to-point routes out of Paris Orly airport and in its regional bases, while it would develop its Transavia European unit. The carrier also said it would retire its Boeing (BA.N) 747 freighters from its cargo fleet by 2015. It will stop flying the jumbo aircraft on passenger services in parallel.

An Airbus A319 Air France passenger jet advances on the tarmac before taking off at Orly airport, near Paris, August 20 2013. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Both England and the United States experienced similar periods of economic malaise in the mid-to-late 1970s. High inflation and unemployment coupled with a need for serious structural reform gave way to sustained periods of economic growth and prosperity. Many of those reforms were associated with strong leadership from Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who were also able to change not only the economic climate but also instilled a sense of optimism about each nation’s future. The first stage of reform is to recognize the need for change. That is now well underway in France. Moreover, that growing sense of urgency contrasts with a sense of gridlock and complacency in the United States. At least France does not have the American campaign finance system that all but ensures paralysis until the next major crisis arrives. The Great Recession had its origins in New York, not in Paris. The U.S. lurches from one debt ceiling and budget crisis to the next. We apply band-aids rather than embrace structural reforms.

Bullish on France

Full details of the budget plans will be published Sept. 25. While seeking to curb energy bills and taxes on consumers, the administration has two Green party ministers and needs its help to get laws comfortably through parliament. Hollande sought to lure voters concerned about the environment to the Socialists during his election with his pledge to curb atomic generation. Transfer Power Without closing more reactors, we dont see how the proportion of nuclear will be carried out, Reseau Sortir du Nucleaire, an anti-atomic power group, said in a statement. Hollande didnt say whether more nuclear plants will close, beyond the planned shuttering of Fessenheim in eastern France , and also failed to address Greens calls to raise diesel tax in line with gasoline on grounds that its more harmful to health. The proposed law will allow the government, along with operator Electricite de France SA and the safety regulator, to decide how long nuclear plants should run, Hollande said. France will also seek to cut energy use in half by 2050 and fossil fuel use 30 percent by 2030, he said. It will implement incentives to spur energy-saving measures in homes and use of electric cars by adding recharging stations. Improved efficiency will pay for changes to the energy mix from 2030, Hollande said. The new law will also define how renewables are financed.

French President Francois Hollande in Marly-le-Roi, near Paris, Aug. 8, 2013.

Security Council History: The Middle Eastern country took its current shape as a French mandate after being chiseled out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as did neighboring Lebanon, and French is spoken by many in both countries. France has particularly close ties to Lebanon and wants to prevent it from being sucked further into Syria’s chaos. The ties to the region also make Syria a particularly attractive place for homegrown French extremists. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said this month that about 110 citizens or residents of France have joined up with jihadist fighters in Syria about half the total number from European Union countries. French authorities fear they will return home to carry out terrorism. Also, fear of chemical weapons runs deep in France, which is why France has hardened its line since the Aug. 21 attack in which the U.S. and some allies believe Assad’s regime used sarin gas against Syrian citizens. Many French people have ancestors who faced mustard gas in World War I, as chemical weapons scarred public consciousness for the first time. Independence and Intelligence: Dating back to the presidency of Gen. Charles de Gaulle in the midst of the Cold War, France has long sought to show it makes military decisions independently. A nuclear power, it has also built up one of the world’s more robust intelligence machines, in part to show that it doesn’t just rely on the United States for information. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tried to drive home that point to a small group of journalists invited to the headquarters of DRM, France’s military intelligence agency, in Creil north of Paris, and taken inside the high-security computer nerve center where images are beamed down from France’s Helios and Pleaides satellites. The message was aimed mostly at domestic audiences, who are disillusioned with Hollande and wary of an intervention in Syria. Screens bore labels of Damascus, the Syrian capital; a nuclear facility at Bushehr, Iran; and Gao, Mali in the vast desert zone that was controlled by al Qaeda-linked Islamic radicals until French troops ousted them this year.