A French Presidential Campaign That Has Missed Its Mark

France must not give in to the trap of democratic disillusionment, writes Le Monde’s editor-in-chief. Though the campaign has lacked honest debate about the country’s challenges, French voters on Sunday must exercise their ballot with maximum attention.

A French Presidential Campaign That Has Missed Its Mark
Eric Izraelewicz

PARIS - A very odd presidential campaign is coming to an end. It's been called boring, empty, and insignificant. It's said to have only come to life through petty controversies, symbolically strong but with no real substance, like debate over the presence of halal meat in French butcher shops and calls to change the system for obtaining driver's license.

There was no shortage of fireworks over the Socialist Primary, France losing its triple-A bonds rating, the Toulouse shootings and inroads by the anti-system candidates – and yet, the country just seems gloomy. That's in part because this election comes in the midst of the worst global economic crisis since 1929. This crisis has weighed on the atmosphere of the campaign as well as the candidates' platforms.

And the crisis also helps explains why on the three key issues facing France in the future – Employment, Europe and the Environment – the candidates seemed to avoid discussion.

The French people will have to choose their new President on Sunday, and they deserved to know each candidate's vision and ambition for the country's future. They spoke of France's triple A at length but failed to discuss the triple E.

E for Employment. The financial crisis put jobs back in the spotlight. "Unemployment is the cancer of our society," commentators declared 30 years ago. The problem has only gotten worse. How do we start creating jobs again? How do we jumpstart growth? Many ideas were presented, but the answers were far from convincing. Just like the French people, who are more realistic than we think, most candidates know that the crisis hitting the French economy (especially its debt) is much worse than they admit in their rallies, and that sooner or later, like each of our European neighbors, we will have to make brutal changes to our public finances, our welfare state and our industrial system.

But the candidates chose not to address these issues, each in their own way, by blaming Europe, a useful scapegoat, a "colander Europe," a "German Europe," an "austerity Europe."

E for Europe. With its cold and anonymous institutions, incomprehensible directives and cumbersome methods, the European Union is hard to love. But Europe is more than ever our future. The anti-European atmosphere felt throughout the campaign is particularly disappointing, and it is very frightening for what comes next. Europe isn't just a continent, a market, a power. It is a set of values that our future President must protect.

Politically, Europe means representative democracy, public freedoms, the rule of law, secularism, openness and tolerance. Economically, it is a unique organization that wants to blend economic efficiency and social justice, individual freedom and collective solidarity – it is a solidarity meant to thrive inside each nation, between the member states and toward poorer countries in the world. These "models' may be going through a crisis, but that is not a reason to give up on the underlying values. Especially since Europe is France's only answer to an increasingly multipolar world on issues like security and the economy.

E as in Environment. The world with its 7 billion people is facing another challenge widely ignored by candidates during the campaign: the environment. "Our house is burning and we're looking the other way," said then French President Jacques Chirac at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002. Since then, the fire has spread. Natural disasters are multiplying, biodiversity is deteriorating and global warming is getting worse. During the 2007 campaign, signing Nicolas Hulot's "environmental pact" became a requirement for all candidates, and pushed newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy to create the Environment Roundtable (Grenelle de l'Environnement.)

The financial crisis didn't stop the environmental one, but it did push it off the agenda of most French politicians. Elsewhere in Europe, the Greens have managed to keep their issues in the spotlight. In France, there was little talk of environmental taxes, energy strategy or green industry. To overcome the financial crisis we need a new growth model that sees the environment as an opportunity rather than a handicap.

Despite all these problems, we should not give in to the democratic disillusionment that is growing in France, especially among the youth. The temptation of abstention is strong, but we should fight against it. First, because suffrage is a hard-earned right that many across the world are denied. But also because for all the criticism, this election does offer real choices. And finally, because among the candidates there are some that must be put aside because they are a threat to democracy, to the republic and to the values that we mentioned earlier. In French elections, the saying goes: "In the first round you choose, in the second, you eliminate." In order to have a real debate between the two rounds, this time we must make sure to use the first round to eliminate.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Flequi

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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