France takes aim at Amazon to protect local bookshops
Action must be taken,” Fabius told Europe 1 radio, i-Tele and newspaper Le Monde in a televised appearance. Fabius said President Francois Hollande wants the issue of border controls to be on the agenda for a European Council meeting of heads of state on October 24-25. Italy has also called for European leaders to address the issue at the summit. “It is very possible that the president will bring this issue to the agenda of the European Council,” Fabius said. “The heads of state must translate their outrage into action,” he said, calling for increased funding for European migration bodies and stronger border controls. Italy and France have already called for European interior ministers to hold talks on immigration at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday. Divers on Sunday resumed their search for bodies after the shipwreck disaster off the remote Italian island of Lampedusa. Over 120 bodies have so far been recovered from the boat that was carrying between 450 and 500 African asylum-seekers when it capsized Thursday off Lampedusa, the first entry point to Italy from north Africa. It is feared that the final death toll could be closer to 300, which would make the accident the worst ever Mediterranean refugee tragedy after a previous one in 1996, also off Italian shores, claimed 283 lives. Fabius said action needed to be taken to toughen penalties against people-smugglers and to boost the resources of Frontex, the European border control agency. Noting that Frontex has an annual budget of only 50-60 million euros ($68-$81 million), Fabius said: “This is nothing at all in the context of the European budget.
France’s Hollande tells ministers to end Roma row
The government has also announced that it plans to press ahead with a carbon or green tax to try to push the French economy away from dependence on fossil fuels. In a speech to close the Socialist Party summer university in La Rochelle, Mr Ayrault promised that the green tax would take the form of a fiscal reshuffle, rather than an extra layer of taxation. Frances overall tax burden, running at around 48.5 per cent of GDP, would not rise, he promised. Since he came to power, President Hollande has kept his electoral promise to attack French deficits and accumulated debt. He has done so, however, almost entirely by tax increases rather than by cuts in a state apparatus which swallows 56.6 per cent of the countrys GDP. Mr Hollande pledged in May that the pace of tax hikes would slacken in 2014 and would cease almost entirely in the period 2015-2017. Steep cuts in state spending would be imposed, he said, to bring Frances annual deficit down to 3 per cent of GDP in 2015 meeting a target set by Brussels. Since then, however, it has emerged that final budget plans for 2014 will include at least 6bn in tax rises. This figure does not include the impact of a programmed rise in the basic rate of VAT from 19.6 per cent to 20 per cent from January next year. Plans for reforms to the state pension and health systems, both in chronic deficit, will be finalised this week. They are likely to include a rise in a levy on household payments of up to 0.5 per cent. Mr Hollandes 75 per cent temporary tax on incomes over 1m also blocked by constitutional objections may also finally take effect in 2014. In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, Mr Rehn praised the structural reforms introduced under Mr Hollande, including a shift towards more flexible rules on hiring and firing.
Seeking to heal a widening rift between centrists and left-wingers in his coalition over the issue, Hollande took both Duflot and Valls to task at his weekly cabinet meeting. “I insist that all ministers pay full mind to their mission, their behaviour, how they express themselves and of course, how they act,” Hollande told the meeting, according to presidential aides. “Being a member of a government does not mean you cannot have your point of view but it does mean you have to strictly apply the rules I have just set out,” he said, adding: “the debate should be inside the government not in public”. The dispute not only exposed tensions within Hollande’s 17-month-old coalition but raised new questions over the authority of the president, whose poll ratings have fallen to 23 percent amid dissatisfaction over his record on the economy and jobs. Hollande said he was also asking Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is suffering from low popularity ratings too, to ensure better coordination in the government. The far-right National Front has signalled it plans to make the Roma issue a central campaign theme for next March’s municipal elections. It is hopeful it can tap a protest vote against Hollande to score gains in town halls across France. Valls’ tough talk on law and order has made him Hollande’s most popular government minister. A poll released at the weekend showed three-quarters of French agreed with his comments on the Roma. Hollande’s government has sought to distance itself from a hard-line policy under conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who explicitly accused Roma of links to crime and launched a programme of deportations. Yet since the beginning of the year some 13,000 Roma have been evicted from illegal camps and welfare groups say the failure of schemes to re-house their inhabitants means they find themselves on the streets or simply set up new camps elsewhere.
The law is part of France’s broader regulation of book prices and curbs on discounting, which was passed in 1981 by the Socialist government at the time to protect small bookshops from supermarket chains. In the past decade, online outlets have challenged physical bookstores, prompting French publishers to lobby for a change in the law to stop what they call Amazon’s “dumping” and “unfair competition”. According to a French parliamentary report, online book sales rose to 13.1 percent of total book sales in 2011 from 3.2 percent in 2003. The country is still home to more bookstores than most countries with 2,000-2,500 in a country of 65 million people, compared with 1,000 in Britain, which has roughly the same-sized population. “The (book pricing) law is part of our cultural heritage,” said conservative lawmaker Christian Kert who sponsored the bill. France’s lower chamber, with the support of the Socialist government, passed the law unanimously. It will now go to the Senate, which is expected to pass it by the end of the year. For its part, Amazon said the law would have the perverse effect of hurting sales of books from the back catalogue and from smaller publishing houses, which were often bought online. “All measures that aim to raise the price of books sold online will curb the ability of French people to buy cultural works and discriminates against those who buy online,” it said. The proposed law is only the latest example of France taking aim at U.S.-based Internet giants. Last week the country’s data protection watchdog moved closer to fining Google for the way it stores and tracks user information after the search engine ignored a three-month ultimatum to bring its practices in line with local law. France has called on the European Union to regulate global Internet companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook more aggressively, to counter their growing dominance of online commerce and services. It is pushing within the OECD and G20 organizations to tighten tax rules to make sure that Internet companies cannot avoid tax by locating their headquarters in low-cost EU countries. Amazon and Google are subject of ongoing tax audits in France. (Reporting by Emile Picy; Writing by Leila Abboud; editing by David Evans and Jane Merriman)