Vive la révolution
With high unemployment, low morale, damaging political scandals and threatened cutbacks to services and welfare, France has been losing its joie de vivre. But revolution is in the air. Here are 10 trailblazers who are leading the way
As president of Mediapart, he oversaw the exposé that led to the investigation of former president Nicolas Sarkozy for allegedly taking financial advantage of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. The site also revealed the intervention of IMF chief Christine Lagarde in a state legal settlement with businessman Bernard Tapie.
Four years after its business model was dismissed by many as unworkable, the site, which employs 46 staff, 30 of them journalists, made a profit of some €700,000 in 2012. Subscriptions, at €9 per month, have risen steadily to about 75,000 (including 10,000 since the resignation of Cahuzac in March). As newspapers struggle for survival against free online sites, Plenel argues that quality journalism, needed now more than ever, can make money. “In the age of the digital revolution we have to prove the value of information to the public.”
Anne Sophie Pic
Who knew French cuisine needed saving? The country’s top chefs, apparently. Alarmed by a study indicating a third of France’s 150,000 eateries admit to regular use of pre-prepared industrial products, Valence-born Anne Sophie Pic (44), who has three Michelin stars pinned to her apron and was named the world’s best female chef in 2011, has joined a campaign to separate the reheaters from the slicers and dicers.
Pic is a member of the the Collège Culinaire de France, which has introduced a new label, Restaurant de Qualité. It will be awarded to artisanal chefs who cook everything from scratch, and who agree to unannounced inspections to confirm they really are deboning and flambéeing instead of microwaving the contents of plastic bags.
Food delivery services posing as restaurants are anathema to Pic, who grew up surrounded by busy chefs transforming raw ingredients into works of art. Her grandfather, known for his crayfish gratin, and father ran the family’s Michelin-starred Maison Pic in the Rhône-Alps region, which Anne Sophie operates today in addition to two others, in Lausanne and Paris. “Creation is by far my favourite part of what I do,” she says.
The new quality seal, presented in collaboration with kitchen greats such as Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse, came just before the French parliament approved a measure to have restaurant menus specify as fait maison or “made on site” those dishes that have not been bought in readymade. The battle is on to preserve a great French tradition which, without the likes of Pic, risks flopping like a microwaved frite.
While the Americans have Silicon Valley, France has had “Death Valley”, says Louis Gallois (69), former head of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space company and the man the Hollande government entrusted to come up with a plan to reboot the economy.
Known as France’s competitiveness tzar – and the man who should be prime minister, according to Jean Pierre Raffarin, former prime minister under Jacques Chirac – Gallois wants his country to learn from its mistakes. French tech history is littered with missed opportunities to turn inventions into cash. The world’s first microcomputer, the Micral, was built in 1973 by Frenchman François Gernelle, but France stood back while IBM and Apple created a massive industry around it. Frenchman François Mizzi filed patents for touchscreen technology as far back as the 1980s, but “le iPad” never materialised. For the Montauban-born Gallois, whose title is General Commissioner for Investment, the EU’s biggest producer of graduates in technology, maths and science must get out of the “Death Valley between what’s developed in a lab and its future as a successful product or company”.
Last year he produced a report for president François Hollande that resulted in some €15 billion being cut from payroll taxes, aimed at encouraging companies to recruit staff. Now his focus is on technology, and on finding ways to profit more from French inventions. With this in mind the government has launched a public consultation on “Brand France”, a state-commissioned report on how best to promote and profit from all things French. Gallois is also encouraging French firms to track down corporations around the world that are using patented French technology but not paying for it.
Her impassioned, eloquent parliamentary address in favour of gay marriage in May prompted a standing ovation in the national assembly for French minister for justice Christiane Taubira, and drew comparisons with historic speeches by her parliamentary predecessors Simone Veil and Robert Badinter.
Even her political opponents were moved to public claims of admiration for the French Guiana-born 61-year-old, who steered through parliament the country’s new law allowing marriage and adoption by gay couples. “I have respect for her as a fighter,” said opposition UMP deputy Jean-Frédéric Poisson. His colleague Philippe Gosselin, a staunch opponent of gay marriage, conceded: “With her, the debate is always lively . . . she looks straight at the opposition, she confronts adversity.”
Born in Cayenne, Taubira was raised by a single mother who worked as a nurse’s aide. She studied economics in Paris and was elected to the national assembly in 1993 representing Guiana, where she had founded her own party, Walwari. She served five years as an MEP, and in 2002 was the first person from the French Caribbean, and the first black woman, to become a presidential candidate in France.
In 2001, she was the main author of a French law passed (and named after her) recognising slavery as a crime against humanity.
On the success of the gay marriage Bill, she told parliament the reform recognised that many children were already living with same-sex parents and deserved the same protections afforded to everyone. “These are children that scrape their knees, eat too much sweets, don’t like broccoli, drive you crazy . . . we protect them.”
They are the most famous unidentified musicians in the world, yet they must be France’s biggest brand: two shy Parisian schoolfriends who started out making techno music in their bedrooms and who, despite huge acclaim, prefer to remain under cover of the robot helmets of their alter egos. Thomas Bangalter (38) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (39) may not have shown their faces for a photo shoot since 1995 but their glossy disco electronic beat has won over dance crowds across the world. Their recently released fourth album, Random Access Memories, was one of the most anticipated music events in years. French pop music, once the butt of jokes, has been disco-danced into a hipper present. Who’s laughing now?
See French Rock Renaissance: page 18