FRANCE seems to have spent 2006 catching its breath after the turmoil and troubles of the previous year.
The first few months of the year were spent picking up the pieces after the riots in the autumn of 2005 and although there were the occasional bumps in the road, the focus of much attention seemed to be on the presidential elections of 2007.
Emergency powers were lifted at the start of 2006 that were brought in following the riots and later in the month there was the announcement of a new employment contract designed to make it easier to employ younger people – the contrat première embauche (CPE).
One of the reasons behind the CPE was to tackle the problems of youth unemployment, as around one in five of those aged under 25 were out of work, but it didn’t take long for opponents of the plans to voice their anger.
February saw the first real stirrings of the presidential battle with the Socialist party’s leading light Ségolène Royal gathering a growing body of support and with many believing that she could go on to be first female French president.
However, there were some distressing figures from Amnesty International that highlighted the problems of domestic violence, with one woman killed by her partner in France every four days.
And the last few days of the month saw growing opposition in universities and colleges against the CPE that culminated in March in the storming of the Sorbonne by riot police, pitched battles on the streets of Paris and even the US embassy issuing a travel warning.
The spring brought the tale of a bear that fought back from the dinner plate after a number of hunters brought portions of a Canadian bear into the country and then thought they didn’t need to cook it properly. Only to go down with food poisoning and face questions about the importation of foodstuffs.
April also saw the start of celebrations marking the 60th birthday of The Little Prince, with music and festivals featuring the story of a young prince and his travels around the Universe.
And by the middle of the month Jacques Chirac announced that the CPE employment contract would be scrapped, sending the popularity of both him and the architect of the plan Dominique de Villepin plummeting.
But the problems the French economy faced were brought home in a survey of spending power across Europe that showed the country lagged behind the UK, Germany and many other countries.
Despite its troubles France was still proving a real draw to many British property hunters, with one family going as far as setting up a farm for rare breed pigs, and the popularity of a move across the Channel was recognised by the Dordogne tax office who announced they would be offering English language lessons to their staff at an event in May.
One of the possible reasons for the appeal of a life in France may have been the property market slowing down after the heady days of the previous couple of years, something highlighted by property search company VEF.
June saw the launch of the government’s CyberBudget online games that allowed people to play at running the country, something its critics accused it of doing in real life.
Towards the end of the month the north of France was preparing itself to remember the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, with re-enactments of the camps and days leading up to the launch of the offensive on July 1.
The month of July was dominated by sporting news as the World Cup came to a dramatic climax with the Zidane head butt, bringing a strangely bizarre close to the career of one of the world’s greatest footballers.
Then the Tour de France was struck by its largest drugs scandal with overall winner Floyd Landis being stripped of his title when he failed a test undertaken after he blew the field apart in the mountains – he is still fighting to clear his name.
And still the temperature rose.
Air travel got much more difficult in August with a security scare in the UK meaning strict restrictions brought in on what could be carried in the cabin, although the tourism ministry said it had enjoyed a good summer season.
The arrival of the autumn months saw interest grow in the new French international news channel France 24, which planned to go head-to-head with the BBC and CNN, and was set to go live later in the year.
For the last few months of 2006 the political lines between the Socialists and the ruling UMP began to take shape as the first of three television debates took place featuring the politicians keen to lead the opposition party into the elections.
And Jacques Chirac announced the dates for the presidential election itself, with the first round taking place at the end of April and the run off between the leading two set for the beginning of May – although Chirac didn’t give anything away on whether or not he would be standing.
November saw new rules for the sale of a property brought in that covered its energy efficiency as the impact of global warming was beginning to be taken seriously, something brought home in December when Météo France said 2006 had been the second warmest year, with temperatures 1.2°C above normal.
So what lies ahead for France? The first few months of 2007 will be dominated by the presidential elections, with Ségolène Royal set to give Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP a stern test, although many will be hoping that whoever comes in will be able to boost employment and the economy.
But whether such change, be it market driven or state led, is backed by the public will be one of the biggest challenges faced by those sitting on top of the political pile by the middle of the year.
What are you own thoughts on 2006 and where do you think France is heading in 2007? Please feel free to leave a comment below.