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France’s Rafale jet struggles to hit its target overseas

Nicolas Sarkozy likes to portray himself as the executive president. He sees himself as France’s salesman-in-chief promoting the country’s flagship exports, clinching deals around the world, especially with fast-growing emerging countries like China, India, Brazil and the oil-rich Gulf nations. He has even set up a so-called “war room” in his Elysée palace to support military and civil exports.

But this grand export strategy seems to be running into growing difficulties of late. The new generation EPR European pressurised reactor – supposed to be spearheading the country’s ambitions to lead the revival of the world nuclear market – is facing all sorts of problems, not least in Finland, the US and in Abu Dhabi where it lost out to South Korea.

Worse, Eurostar, the Channel tunnel high-speed train operator controlled by SNCF, the French state railway, has just ordered German-built Siemens trains rather than those of its national champion, Alstom. Even more worrying is the continuing dearth of export orders for the Dassault Rafale multi-role combat aircraft.

France has yet to win an export order for the Rafale. It has been trying for a decade without success. Securing a foreign order for this combat aircraft is not just a matter of prestige for the French. After all, Serge Dassault, the veteran controlling shareholder of the eponymous aircraft maker, is also a senator and member of the governing UMP party and owner of Le Figaro, the slavishly pro-Sarkozy newspaper.

But there are more important reasons why Rafale export sales are so crucial. Exports would reduce the overall cost of the programme at the same time as providing funds to help finance new research and technology. Without exports, there is the risk that France would no longer be able to ensure the autonomy of its military aircraft industry, especially when the time eventually comes to develop a replacement for the Rafale.

Last, but not least, failure to export the combat aircraft will put further stress on the country’s already stretched Treasury. Indeed, the French Defence Ministry has decided to order 11 additional Rafales next year earlier than scheduled to ensure that production lines keep running. This will cost the taxpayer an extra €800m ($1.1bn).

It is not for lack of trying on the part of the president that France has so far failed to place an export order for the Rafale. But Mr Sarkozy also has a tendency of jumping the gun. He clearly finds it difficult to resist announcing to the world that he has finally pulled off a significant export sale for the Rafale even before the contract is signed and delivered.

A year ago, he announced with great fanfare that France had struck up a privileged relationship with President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and that Brazil had agreed to buy a first batch of 36 Rafale aircraft. In the long run, the order could rise to 100 combat aircraft. But 12 months later, the deal has yet to be finalised and there are signs that the Brazilians may ultimately opt for the rival Swedish Saab Gripen fighter rather than the more expensive Rafale.

A senior Brazilian government official confirmed this week that Brazil had decided to suspend a final decision until after the second round of the country’s presidential elections at the end of this month. He also suggested the competition was still open. In other words, the choice could still go either way.

This summer, President Sarkozy also announced that the UAE was considering replacing its older fleet of 63 French Mirage jets with Rafales. Once again, the French camp seemed confident they had finally clinched an export order for the aircraft in a region that has traditionally been an important customer for French defence equipment. But this month, the UAE suggested it was also looking at the US Boeing F18 Super Hornet as an alternative. So the prospect of success once again risks turning into a mirage.

Elsewhere, Kuwait and India are looking for new combat aircraft but the competition is bound to be fierce. For several reasons. The first is that the US military-industrial complex is intensifying its export sales drive, not least to compensate for heavy cuts in the Pentagon’s budget. The second is that Russia is now in the game and has overtaken France as the world’s third largest arms exporter after the US and the UK. The third is a problem purely of Europe’s own making.

In all these export contests, Europe invariably fields three competing offers of its own – the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Rafale and the Saab Gripen – which is one more than even the US typically offers. In so doing, it gives its US and Russian rivals an obvious advantage. Until the Europeans finally decide to consolidate their combat aircraft industry, they can only continue to lose altitude.



Fuel Shortages as French Strike Again

Scattered fuel shortages rattled drivers and France’s main airport warned that some flights must arrive with enough fuel to get back home as hundreds of thousands marched Saturday for the fifth time in a month to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age to 62.

Frequent strikes in the last few weeks have hobbled French trains and airports, closed schools and docks, and left garbage piling up in the southern port of Marseille.

But now the airline industry is getting worried, after all of France’s 12 fuel-producing refineries went on strike and many depots were blocked by protesters. Police were called in to force three crucial fuel depots to reopen Friday, including one outside Marseille.

The Civil Aviation authority sent out an advisory Friday night to airlines requiring short- and medium-haul flights to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport — one of Europe’s key hubs — to arrive with enough fuel to get home, spokesman Eric Heraud said.

“They must come with a maximum capacity in their fuel tanks,” Heraud said by telephone. “Obviously, these instructions apply only to short- and medium-haul flights” of less than four or five hours because trans-Atlantic flights cannot “double carry” fuel.

As fearful drivers headed to the pumps, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde urged the nation not to panic.

“Today, there is no reason, no reason, I repeat, to panic because there is no risk of shortages,” she told BFM-TV on Saturday, noting that only 230 of the country’s 13,000 gas stations were out of fuel. “There are weeks of reserve.”

The Ecology Ministry, however, said fuel stocks at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport were good only until Tuesday and the fuel pipeline to the airport was working only intermittently.

“I don’t say we can’t guarantee beyond Tuesday … we will find other solutions,” a ministry spokesman told The Associated Press. He said France had not yet resorted to emergency fuel imports from neighboring Italy or Spain. He could not be identified by name in keeping with ministry policy.

Heraud, of the Civil Aviation authority, said the pipeline that supplies Charles de Gaulle and the smaller Orly airport south of Paris began feeding fuel from the Atlantic port city of Le Havre again Saturday, assuring enough fuel at the main airport until Wednesday.

“That leaves time for parallel supply means,” notably by truck, he said. Orly airport has 17 days’ worth of available fuel, Heraud said.

A sign Saturday at a gas station in Feyzin, near the eastern city of Lyon, announced a fuel shortage at all pumps, frustrating motorists there and elsewhere.

“When the government says there will be no shortage, it means there will be a shortage,” said Bernard Martin, a 60-year-old retiree who found no fuel at a Carrefour gas station in Ecully, near Lyon. “Since this morning, there is no more diesel fuel.”

Dominique Bussereau, France’s transport minister, authorized oil companies to use some reserves after trucking companies complained of difficulties finding fuel.

Police estimated some 825,000 people marched in cities across France, lower than during an Oct. 12 march — and far lower than the union estimate of 3 million.

In Paris, huge balloons rose above a vocal crowd that police counted at 50,000 as marchers made their way from the Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation on the city’s eastern edge. Unions claimed 310,000 protesters marched.

Police, many in civilian attire, watched for troublemakers as youths joined the protest movement. The youth factor has traditionally proved a volatile element in French demonstrations, raising emotions and drawing in hooligans. More than 300 high schools went on strike this week and scuffles with police left one student seriously injured.

“The more the government tells youth that their place isn’t in the street, the more they mobilize,” said student leader Jean-Baptiste Prevost of the UNEF union.

Countries across Europe are cutting spending and raising taxes to bring down deficits and debts that hit record levels after the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the worst recession in 70 years. Labor leaders, students and civil servants are fighting back.

“(These protests are) an attempt to say stop abusing the workers and citizens,” Christian Coste, head of the CGT Union at Total’s La Mede refinery, told Associated Press Television News on Saturday. “We are not here to bring France to its knees and create a shortage, we are here to make ourselves heard.”

Workers have been striking for five days straight at the La Mede refinery in southern France.

On the streets of Marseille, garbage was left uncollected for the fourth straight day and firefighters had to extinguish some rubbish piles set afire.

Sarkozy’s pension reforms — especially raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 — are seen by unions as an attack on their near-sacred social protections. Yet the government says that is the only way to save the money-draining pension system and insists French workers must work longer because they are living longer.

Even at 62, France would have one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe.

In cities excluding Paris, some 340,000 protesters were out by midday, according to the Interior Ministry. Unions insisted the figures were higher.

Saturday’s protests will not be the last. Another round is set for Tuesday, a day before the French Senate is to vote on the pension reform bill.




Près de huit internautes français sur dix (78%) se déclarent membres d’au moins un réseau social en ligne, selon le nouvel Observatoire Ifop des réseaux sociaux publié jeudi 14 octobre. Windows Live (ex-MSN) est le site social le plus populaire de France, tandis que Facebook pointe désormais en troisième position.

Lors du précédent baromètre, publié en janvier 2010, la part des internautes français membres d’au moins un réseau social était de 77%. Ce taux a donc peu évolué en neuf mois, puisqu’il n’augmente que d’un point (78%), et ce, en dépit d’une offre de sites plus élargie. En revanche, la marge de progression des réseaux sociaux parmi le public déjà conquis est plus importante. En moyenne, un internaute français est aujourd’hui membre de 2,9 réseaux sociaux, contre 1,9 il y a un an.

En matière d’inscriptions, c’est Windows Live de Microsoft (autrefois appelé MSN) qui pointe en tête avec 52% des internautes interrogés qui disent en être membres (+ 6 points). Il devance Copains d’avant, relégué au deuxième rang avec 46% d’inscrits (- 3 points). Facebook est troisième avec 43% d’internautes membres (+ 6 points). Suivent Trombi.com (22%), YouTube (21%), Picasa (16%), Dailymotion (12%), Viadeo (10%), MySpace (9%), Skyrock.com (8%), Twitter (7%), Badoo (6%), Meetic (6%), etc.


Ce classement varie néanmoins selon la catégorie d’âge étudiée. Ainsi, chez les 18-24 ans, 84% des sondés sont membres de Windows Live, et 77% sont inscrits sur Facebook. Chez les 35-49 ans, c’est Copains d’avant, dont la vocation est de mettre en relation d’anciens camarades de classe, qui est le plus plébiscité (50%), alors que Facebook est troisième avec seulement 39% de membres. Chez les étudiants, Windows Live culmine à 93%, tandis que Facebook réalise son meilleur score avec 85% d’inscrits.

En termes de notoriété, Facebook est le réseau social le plus connu des internautes français. Ainsi, 94% (- 3 points) des sondés connaissent le fameux site aux 500 millions d’amis dans le monde, 92% ont déjà entendu parler de YouTube, et 88% de Copains d’avant (- 5 points).

Twitter, dont le taux d’inscription reste relativement marginal (7%), est connu de 80% des internautes français (contre 63% en 2009). Enfin, ce baromètre souligne la préoccupation des internautes en matière de vie privée. 43% des sondés ont déjà essayé d’effacer des données personnelles visibles de tous, une fois (20%), voire plusieurs fois (23%).

Ce sondage Ifop a été réalisé en septembre 2010 auprès d’un échantillon de 2 015 personnes représentatif de la population internaute française âgée de 18 ans et plus.



Près d’un millionnaire sur dix vit en France

C’est ce que dévoile une étude de Crédit Suisse. Sur les 24,2 millions de millionnaires en dollars dénombrés dans le monde, 9% d’entre eux, soit 2,2 millions, vivent dans l’Hexagone.

70.000 milliards de dollars, soit plus de 50.288 milliard d’euros : c’est, en valeur absolue, la fortune évaluée des millionnaires dans le monde. Ils représentent seulement 0,5% de la population mondiale, mais concentrent 35,6% de la richesse de la planète, selon une étude de la banque Crédit Suisse.

Pour être comptabilisé parmi la moitié la plus riche, un adulte a besoin de 4 000 dollars d’actifs (soit 2 880 euros au cours actuel), une fois les dettes soustraites. Il lui faut plus de 72 000 dollars (51 864 euros) pour appartenir au cercle fermé des 10% des plus fortunés du monde. Et 588.000 dollars (423 559 euros) pour être membre de la tranche supérieure de 1%.

La surprise de cette étude vient de la France qui accueille, selon Crédit Suiss, pas moins de 9% des millionnaires en dollars dans le monde. Elle se place ainsi devant l’Italie (6%), la Grande-Bretagne (5%), l’Allemagne (5%), le Canada (4%) et la Chine( 3%).

La France se retrouve ainsi presque au niveau du Japon (10%) même si elle reste évidemment loin derrière les Etats Unis, terre d’élection favorite des grosses fortunes avec 41% des millionnaires du monde, soit 9,94 millions de personnes.

Bien que la France ne compte que 1,1% des adultes du monde, le pays occupe le quatrième rang mondial en termes d’actifs globaux par ménage, derrière la Chine et juste devant l’Allemagne.

La richesse moyenne par adulte a triplé en France entre 2002 et 2007

D’après l’étude de Crédit Suisse, la richesse moyenne par adulte a triplé en France entre 2000 et 2007, même si elle a reflué de 15% depuis cette date. Un bond qui s’explique par le faible taux d’endettement des ménages - autour de 10% de la valeur du patrimoine - et de l’appréciation de l’euro par rapport au dollar.

Le produit intérieur brut (PIB) par habitant s’élève à 56.052 dollars en France, qui se classe ainsi devant le Japon (46.857) mais reste derrière les Etats-Unis (65.593), l’Australie (72.414), le Danemark (75.213) et la Suisse (88.590). La Chine restant encore très en retard selon ce critère, avec 5.535 dollars par habitant.



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