FRANCE has obviously had more distressing times in the past but in recent history 2005 must go down as an ‘annus horribilis’.
A struggling economy, rising unemployment, mistrust of politicians and Europe all seemed to culminate in the riots that spread across France in November.
The year did not start too well when a study by civil servants described the French public as morose, and this seemed to be summed up by the man who went off with a bottle of whisky after feeling depressed and got lost in caves for 35 days.
But the French love affair for all things aeronautical was highlighted with the unveiling of the giant Airbus A380 in Toulouse with a dramatic light show.
February saw the spectre of unemployment raise its head as the number of people out of work hit 10 per cent for the first time in five years, with one in four young people out of work.
However, living in France was obviously suiting some as research showed that the life expectancy of its population was only second to Japan with French women expected to live into their early 80s.
The battle over the future of Europe took place in May with the vote over the constitution put before the French public – who resoundingly rejected it, stunning the political elite.
Everyone gave a reason or two but ultimately Chirac and the parties of left and right failed to say what advantages the European Constitution would bring, leaving the way open for opponents to use the threat of Polish plumbers and the Anglo-Saxons to leave the plans in tatters.
June brought the launch of Air Turquoise, an independent low-cost airline offering flights across France, the company is still operating and it will be interesting to see if any others are willing to take to the skies.
The month of July saw the Tour de France take place and the big questions was would Lance Armstrong win his seventh title? After the mountain stages there was no doubt and he established himself as one of the world’s greatest athletes.
But the big story of the month was the awarding of the 2012 Olympic Games to London, a massive snub to the Paris campaign and again President Chirac came in for some stinging criticism, this time over comments he made days before the announcement.
The continuing depressed air hanging over France was again highlighted in a report saying a fear of flying, bird flu and change has seen many worry about life.
Those keen for change have even upped sticks and headed to the UK seeing it as a land of opportunity with many young people moving to London and the south east to look for work.
The approaching autumn months saw strikes taking place, an example of the gulf growing between the haves and the have-nots and the sight of French paratroopers storming a ship that had been taken over by striking sailors.
And as the dark nights set in heralding the onset of autumn, years of frustration, anger and discrimination exploded on the streets of Parisian estates as riots broke out in late October.
The disturbances soon spread to many towns and cities, with thousands of cars set alight, buildings torched and running battles between youths and the police.
Although the press went a little overboard with headlines proclaiming ‘Paris burns’ it was clear that France had become a divided country, with two worlds existing side by side but never meeting and ruled over by a distant and woefully out of touch government.
The riots stung the French prime minister Dominique de Villepin into action as the cabinet outlined its plans to pump more money into funding local groups, help for businesses in the areas affected and an increased emphasis on getting people back to work.
It is still early days and decades of mistrust and anger will not be easily erased, but one person that does look set to disappear from view is Jacques Chirac whose popularity plummeted and is now seen by many as a lame duck President.
And so what of the year to come? Have the riots shaken the French public enough to force a change for the good or a retrenchment into the arms of the far right and Le Pen?
Whilst the appeal of a life in France is still strong amongst many, has the lustre been tarnished by recent events or will it be wrecked completely by what plays out in 2006?
With politicians already jostling and positioning for the Presidential elections in a little over a year’s time, they risk taking their eyes off the real fight – that of bringing France together.
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