By Sean Power
Salut from La Belle France.
There have been so many stories over the past couple of weeks that it has been almost too difficult to pick what to write about that has a French link.
France has no shortage of fresh produce. The local supermarkets and fresh weekly markets are as bountiful as ever. French media has been curious as to why UK supermarkets have run short of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and so on. I know from Irish media, RTE and BBC NI that there are no shortages on the island of Ireland. There has been some poor weather in Spain and Morocco that may have created some delays or shortages but not in Ireland or Continental Europe. I even see British journalists showing fresh produce plentiful in Ukraine supermarkets. I see some reports in the JEP of shortages in Channel Island supermarkets. I do not know why there are shortages other than there are continuing problems and complications caused by Brexit.
This brings me to the debate Jersey may have to hold on diversifying its logistics supply chain and reducing its dependence on all fresh produce and imports coming from the UK. The produce originates for the most part outside the UK, goes to distribution centres in the UK and is then transshipped to the Channel Islands. I have been following the comments and views of the Deputy Chief Minister, Deputy Kirsten Morel. I have mentioned in a previous letter that Rungis, Paris, is the biggest wholesale fresh food market in the world. It is a four-hour journey to Cherbourg or a five-hour journey by truck to St Malo. If Jersey wants to have a strategic freight link to France, its closest neighbour, then it may well have to sit down with existing ferry operators and consider asking to become an investor, stakeholder or shareholder. One obvious candidate would be Brittany Ferries, an existing shareholder in Condor. Brittany Ferries’ parent company, BAI (Bretagne, Angleterre, Irlande), has evolved from a one-vessel operation formed in 1973 sending agricultural produce from Breton farms and a Breton agri co-op to become the largest western channel freight, ferry and cruise ferry operation.
It has important services that link France to the UK, Spain and Ireland. Jersey has to decide whether it wishes to follow this route. Then a report and proposition will have to be presented to the States Assembly for a decision. It is a big decision to make and can only be formed by a considered study of Jersey’s strategic links and what is best for the future. I believe investing and establishing a financial interest in an existing operation makes sense. Linked to this, the port of St Helier would have to be modified to allow bigger and longer ferries, at least 190 metres length overall and with deeper draught.
For the next few weeks, a French military exercise called Orion is taking place here. France is leading a large multinational force on French soil and at sea that includes the military of USA, Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and the UAE. I am not knowledgeable on military terminology, but this exercise refers to using aircraft carriers, amphibious helicopter carriers, 30 ships, 100 military drones, one army division with three brigades, 2,300 vehicles. 400 combat vehicles, 40 helicopters, 80 aircraft, six radar detecting systems and 20 space-borne sensors. This is all detailed in a PowerPoint presentation issued by the French Ministry of Defence. Exercise Orion was brought home to me last weekend when a series of military combat jets flew over our town at low altitude several times in the past week. Most of the exercises are taking place off the west and south-west coast of France and military bases all over the country are involved so I guess these Rafale-type aircraft were zooming by to take part.
Nicola Sturgeon is held in very high regard here by a good majority of French people. Her resignation as leader of the Scottish National Party was covered extensively here in France. There were many glowing tributes to her and admiration for standing up to recent British Prime Ministers. Indeed, one leading French daily mused that Sturgeon had as much trouble with the most recent PM to exit Downing Street as President Macron had during Brexit negotiations. Her forthright views on Scottish independence and Scotland’s vote against Brexit endeared her to many French. The few Scots I know in this area supported her views. In London, unionists were jumping for joy at her decision. However, a report in the Washington Post this week states that Scots aged between 16 and 24 are six times more likely to support independence than their parents or grandparents and believe that Scottish culture and values are incompatible with those of the English.
Finally, I confess that I am a Eurovision Song Contest fan. I try and watch it most years. I loved the Terry Wogan commentary and humour, now followed by Graham Norton on BBC. This year, Liverpool hosts the show on behalf of Ukraine, winners in 2022. I normally support Ireland in this contest, but I may have divided loyalties this year because the French song entry “Évidemment” (Obviously) is a very good song. It is being sung by La Zarra, the artist’s name for Fatima Zahra Hafdi, who is a Canadian singer-songwriter. She may well follow in the heels of the success of Céline Dion, a Québécois, who won the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest representing Switzerland.
That’s it for now. More soon.
Sean Power served in the States between 2005 and 2014, on Scrutiny, as Assistant Minister and Minister of the Housing Department. He served as chair of the Planning Applications Panel under the late Deputy Robert Duhamel. He also served nearly seven years with the JSPCA, latterly as vice-president. In 2011, he co-founded Sanctuary Trust with the Rev. Mark Bond and the late Colin Taylor BEM.