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France

Eye on France: Near-empty parliament passes controversial justice reforms

media French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet. Eric FEFERBERG / AFP

Late last night the French parliament passed the final reading of the Justice Reform Bill, by 31 votes to 11.

The government has described the legislation as “ambitious” and “balanced”; the political opposition and some members of the legal confraternity have been less enthusiastic.

Among the key provisions of the new law are the establishment of an anti-terrorist court, and a revised list of penalties for those convicted of crimes.

The Justice Minister, Nicole Belloubet, last night admited that she had been unable to calm all the fears expressed about this text. But she insisted that the pre-existing situation could no longer be allowed to continue.

Madame Belloubet says that those who arrive before the nation’s courts will henceforth face a system of justice which is “more comprehensible, faster and provides more protection”.

Steady on, bellowed the opposition, before most of them went home, leaving 11 unfortunates for the final vote.

This law is too distant from the concerns of the ordinary citizen, less at their service, according to the right-wing Republicans.

Some Socialist Party deputies criticized the general vagueness of the new measures; others were annoyed that the majority had forced through key clauses, like the reform of the way minors are treated under French justice, a text which has not been touched since 1945.

A quick guide for the common criminal

Apart from the technical stuff, the new law, for example, means that no French criminal can be condemned to jail for a period of less than one month. If you get between one and six months, you won’t go to jail; but you will have to wear the electronic bracelet provided by the prison authorities. The old rule of thumb under which nobody went to jail unless sentenced to more than two years will no longer hold . . . from now on, only those sentenced to serve 12 months are sure to escape detention.

And, in case you are considering getting divorced, the new law has done away with the previously obligatory appearance of the spouses before a conciliation tribunal, an obligation considered too slow, too complex and not very efficient.

Demon drink causing thousands of deaths

Alcohol caused 41,000 deaths in France last year, according to figures just released by the Public Health authorities. Only tobacco is worse.

Le Monde takes an optimistic view of the situation, assuring us that “Alcohol-related deaths are on the decrease.”

Le Figaro hides behind the statistics, telling us that 7 percent of French deaths are due to alcohol. It doesn’t sound like too many.

No niceties over at financial daily Les Echos: “Drink kills 41,000 French people every year,” reads their businesslike headline.

Left-leaning Libération says the same thing, practically, adding the killer word “still”.

And that’s because, after an interrupted century of declining consumption of the demon drink, the French are now stuck on a sort of plateau, still among the nations with the highest consumption of alcohol in the world.

Putting it away by the bucketful

Just to put the latest figures in perspective, every French person puts away 26 grammes of pure alcohol every day.

That’s roughly the equivalent of three glasses of red wine. When you take out kids and non-drinkers, that clearly means that the real drinkers are putting away bucketfuls of the stuff.

Even the medical limit of 18 grammes per day, with a minimum of two drink-free days per week, is no longer considered safe, accounting for 500 deaths every year.

Back in the 1930s, the average French man or woman was drinking 65 grammes of pure alcohol daily, three times more than the current average.

And the final word from the sober authors of the latest public health report: “drinking less is better; not drinking at all is the best”.

Lights out at California's largest power company

And finally, from California, news that the Pacific Gas and Electric Company has gone bust; that’s the biggest company collapse in the United States since Lehman Brothers went down the tubes, bringing most of the globe with them.

PG&E has, or had, 16 million customers. The French business paper Les Echos says the power supplier is the first major commercial victim of climatic change.

The company is suspected of having been responsible for last winter’s forest fires in California, when sparks from one of its high-tension lines set nearby vegetation ablaze.

So PG&E now faces insurance claims worth over 30 billion dollars. Unable to pay, the company has filed for bankruptcy.

Wall Street is considering the implications of the case, and is said to be worried. They should be!

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