The French Playbook 3: Clown Crusaders?


We see no better way to kick off our first Playbook of 2020 than with a contemporary Tale of Two Cities, or a civil service equivalent of a Marvel-DC crossover, depending on which generation you hail from; drama, suspense, emotion – it’s all there for you to enjoy. We begin with post-Brexit reflections, refresh our previous brief on Sahel, and wrap up with nothing short of clown warfare. Welcome to the Roaring 20’s.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of hardware appliances lining the Champs-Elysées, it was the epoch of strikes galore. It was and also continues to be the season of French firefighters taking a leaf out of “The Joker’s” book (and his makeup routine as well) and storming the Parisian streets, setting themselves on fire, and dodging water-gun assaults, in the pursuit of higher pay and an increase in their hazard bonus. We wouldn’t expect any less from our first French Playbook of 2020. In this edition, we’ll cover the great European heartbreak in the wake of Brexit, update you on what has been happening in Sahel, and shed more light on why clown-faced “sapeurs-pompiers” have been self-immolating. Let’s get into it.

“Have a nice life”

With Brexit finally behind us, the general French public reflected on their longstanding, but not always so amicable relationship with their cross-channel companions, with general sentiment sounding a tune very akin to that of a midlife crisis breakup. Some wished the UK well in its future pursuits, others called the split a “shame”, one gentleman was glad that one party finally took matters into their own hands; hindsight, though, is 20-20, and looking forward, the European Commission charged with carving out a comprehensive trade deal between the now-27 state bloc and Britain seeks to reach a “zero-tariffs and zero-quotas trade deal” by the end of 2020. Boris, however, not so keen to return to whence he came, responded standoffishly, holding that “there is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules.” A “No-Deal” Brexit is therefore still a possibility if neither party cedes ground.

“Wherefore art thou Brexiting?”

Left on Read

The last time Sahel was on the docket, we discussed the troubles France has been facing in the region for the past seven years, quelling insurgencies both in and outside of the Libyan border, while attempting to restore undisputed sovereignty in the state. As of the 29th of January, things got even more messy, as Turkish warships, accompanied by Syrian mercenaries, were sighted near the Libyan shoreline, just several weeks after, according to the BBC,  “world leaders pledged not to interfere in Libya’s civil conflict and vowed to uphold a UN arms embargo.” So much for that pinky promise. The Libyan imbroglio, only further muddled by its transformation into something of a proxy war, with UN forces backing the Tripoli-based government and the French state in support of General Khalifa Haftar, the avowed government rival, risks straying further and further away from a place of compromise, a bad sign for the future of North African geopolitics and another pressure point for the G7. After Macron had accused Erdogan of purposely stoking conflict, the Turkish premier opted to leave the French president on “read”, while UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé held that “a political solution to the conflict was best for all parties”. If only it were that simple.

Under the Big Top Tent

France’s very own live-action “West Side Story” remake unfolded last week, when firemen and riot police battled it out on the Parisian streets in the most bizarre fashion imaginable. Each side clad in uniform, several firefighters opted to also don Joker-inspired makeup, advancing on a phalanx of riot shields, while bracing from the impact of “sting-ball” grenades and explosive teargas. Firefighters also lit themselves on fire as a form of protest, fighting for better pay and work conditions, as well as an increase in their hazard bonus, which has remained unchanged since 1990. And Le President de la République’s response to all of this tumult? Predictably, he remained non-partisan as can be, and, according to the Guardian, “warned that the “unacceptable behaviour” of some officers risked undermining the “credibility and dignity” of the force,” while also denouncing “the violence of some extremist protesters.” While this headbutting may seem to be just another instance in the protest-ridden contemporary history of the Fifth Republic, it remains unknown just how many more straws this camel’s back can handle. With Macron’s popularity in the French capital now slipping, the same city 90% in his camp in 2017, he will need to play the Risk board ever more tactically, winning back favor slowly but surely if his political aspirations extend past 2022.  

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