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A DAMNING report on the privatisation of ToulouseBlagnac Airport has criticised the Chinese-led board for draining reserves by demanding a €40million payout from €10million profits. The Cour des Comptes state auditors said the site – which Occitanie region claims is strategically vital because of its links to Airbus – has been left in the hands of an “unstable” board with links to the Chinese state. It called for reforms in foreign investments, which has happened with privatisations at other airports such as Nice. A spokesman for Toulouse airport, which has UK flights with Easy­ Jet, Ryanair, British Airways and Flybe, said: “We have absolutely no comment to make.” Attempts to speak to representatives of the Chinese shareholders also failed – not surprisingly, as even the Cour des Comptes was unable to find any physical trace of their holding company in France. The French state sold a 49.9% stake in the airport to the Chinese consortium Casil Europe, which had bid €308mil-

Photo: Benjamin Pasquier CC BY-SA 4.0

Chinese criticised over €40m claim on €10m airport profit

Occitanie’s Carole Delga said Toulouse was unique lion. It is made up of Shandong Hi-Speed, owned by the Chinese state, and British Vir­gin Islands firm Fried­mann Pacific AG, which is owned and operated by a Hong Kong businessman. The consortium committed to an option to buy the state’s last 10% of shares by April 2019, and joined it in a confidential shareholders’ pact. However, local representatives on the 15-seat board were upset and wrote to the prime minister, asking the state not to sell its remaining shares. Last February

the government cancelled the sale option and maintained a state interest in the airport, although details of the deal with Casil Europe remained secret. The Cour des Comptes condemned this arrangement, saying governance was “unstable and ambiguous”. The board has six Chinese members, two from the French state, four from Toulouse Chambre de Com­merce (CCI), and one each from Toulouse Mét­ropole, Haute-Garonne and Occi­­tanie local authorities. The councils and Toulouse CCI hold the remaining shares. Difficulties started at the board’s first meeting as some Chinese directors did not speak French or English and the need for translation slowed progress. But what most upset local representatives were the Chinese demands, backed by the French state, for big dividends, even if it meant raiding reserves. In 2016 the Chinese wanted €40million in dividends from a net profit of around €10million. After a boardroom battle, they accepted a €20million dividend, with €15million coming from reserves. In 2017 a similar

battle resulted in a €7.8million dividend, with €1.5million from reserves. Occitanie region president Carole Delga replied to questions with a statement emphasising the unique nature of Toul­ouse-Blagnac. She wrote: “It is used by Airbus, especially for all its test flights. “It is thus a question of national sovereignty, and these are words not used lightly. “It is not just a simple commercial airport like Nice. That is why it is essential that the state remains a shareholder in this airport, because there is a national dimension. “Public shareholders must remain in the majority.” Despite their criticism, the auditors recognised that revenue, profits and passenger numbers at the airport have soared as Casil Europe targeted more long-haul flights The number of passengers has risen from 7.4million in 2014 to 9.2million in 2017, a 23% rise when overall French provincial air passenger numbers rose 15.9%. Overall sales figures are also up 10.5% to €142.3million in 2017.

EasyJet and Ryanair expand in France

RYANAIR and EasyJet are opening new French bases and routes, including to Dublin and Manchester, creating hundreds of jobs. The new base at Nantes will be EasyJet’s seventh in France, which the airline says is its second largest market after the UK. Ryanair said its new sites at Bordeaux and Marseille are the “first phase of developments” after earlier saying it was “in talks with several regional airports”. Ryanair’s decision follows its win in the French appeal court over claims it broke employment law by employing 127 staff at Marseille on Irish labour contracts – and its decision to pay the French government €525,000 to free a plane impounded at Bordeaux over illegal subsidies. Employees at Bordeaux and Marseille will be on French contracts and it is investing €200million in each, with two Boeing

737-800 jets apiece, and 16 routes from Bordeaux and 11 from Marseille. Both have twice-a-week Manchester flights. Ryanair chief commercial officer David O’Brien said: “Our growth will create 120 jobs and deliver 1.1million customers a year at Bordeaux and 2.4million at Marseille.” For EasyJet, its decision to base three A320 aircraft at Nantes will create 100 jobs on French contracts and open up new routes to Bastia, Bilbao, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Rome, Granada, Marrakech

and Tenerife this summer. A spokesman said: “We’ve had a long relationship with Nantes, starting 10 years ago, and by opening the base we will reinforce our local presence and accelerate development, which means more flights at better times – and 400,000 extra passengers in 2019.” EasyJet said France was its second largest market after the UK despite low-cost carriers having only 30% of the market, compared to 47% for the rest of Europe. On-going train strikes in 2018 and the disputes at Air France boosted EasyJet’s French income by €20million. Asked about a no-deal Brexit, the airline said it was confident flights would continue as the UK and EU had said an agreement would be signed. “We have taken steps already, with HQs in Austria, Switzerland and the UK,” it said.

Sports certificates might end

Check your winter route

Polluting cruise liner fined

SPORTS medical certificates which are needed to join clubs and associations may be ended after an MP said in a report that they do not prevent heart attacks and cuts could save €100million a year. Perrine Goulet (Nièvre) said a certificat de non contre-indication à la pratique sportive should only be for high-intensity sports.

DRIVERS can find out more about road conditions on their journey this winter as the traffic agency Bison Futé is creating up-to-the-minute road-weather maps. Www.bison-fute.gouv.fr has a Routes en Hiver section with zoomable maps of France and main winter black spots, giving green, amber, red and black warnings.

A CRUISE liner captain and his bosses have been fined €100,000 for polluting the air in Marseille by using heavy-sulphur oil. The fine on the skipper of the Azura and US owner Carnival is the first such court case in France. It comes after heavy local criticism of poor air quality with plumes of black smoke seen over the port area.

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Herbalists could be brought back into health system

herbalists who treat health problems with plants have been banned as a profession in France since 1942 but may soon regain official status. This follows months of consultations into the role of herboristes at the Sénat, leading to senators making 39 recommendations in a report, including calls for law changes. A further consultation period has started. Among the justifications for working to bring herboristes into the modern health system is the agricultural potential of growing plants for health purposes and the boost it could bring to rural areas. The Vichy regime banned herboristes in 1942 under pressure from pharmacists, who wanted to get rid of competitors who used what they saw as unscientific charlatan practices. Despite the ban, many rural areas continued to have “wise women” to whom locals would turn for remedies made from plants. In 2004 the law was amended to allow the few stores still selling herbs, often under the guise of being tisane shops, to again promote the health benefits, as long as it was done under the guidance of a pharmacist. Even before then, herboristes were getting round the law. The private Ecole Lyonnaise de Plantes Médicin­ales et des Savoirs Naturels was founded 40 years ago, with faculty staff including doctors, botanists and pharmacists. The school

has had record numbers of students in the past few years and is highly selective, with student fees of €1,800 a year, or €2,268 if financed by training groups or companies. Students are a mix of people with farming projects, health professionals, cooks, and those seeking work with organic food. Deputy director Françoise Pillet said: “We do not, and have not ever, issued formal diplomas. That is how we have managed to exist legally, but it is the quality of the work we do which is why we have survived.” There are 1,200 students, with 600 doing three-year distancelearning courses. Students also meet in local groups for lessons and practical demos. Founder and director Patrice de Bonneval had mixed feelings about bringing herboristes back into the legal framework. “On one level it is good, especially if it improves job prospects. “But when you look at the work we and others are doing, it is miles away from a university science course, such as ones pharmacists follow. “Herboristes know plants, their virtues and dangers, but they also trained from the start to marry that with the people they give the plants to, and that sharing outlook is a completely different spirit to what you get with a university course.” He said it was gratifying to see renewed interest in plant medicine, driven partly by people’s wish to be more éco but also by a more open philosophy of life.

Car premiums rise to cover uninsured

MOTORISTS face rises in insurance premiums as MPs say they need to pay more to cover the rising costs of treating victims of uninsured and hit-and-run drivers. They want insurers’ contributions to the Fonds de garantie des assurances obligatoires de dommages to increase from 12% to 25%, which could amount to an extra €10 on policies. Rising care costs for victims are part of the reason for the call for extra cash but a large part of the problem is the increasing number of uninsured cars on the road. It coincides with the launch of the fichier des véhicules assurés motor insurance register this month, which gives police details of whether a car is insured or not. Uninsured drivers face fines of up to €3,750. Drivers who want to keep costs down can use the loi Hamon that allows them to cancel insurance at any point after the first year and sign up for new cheaper cover elsewhere.

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The Connexion 195 - January 2019  

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The Connexion 195 - January 2019  

France's English-Language Newspaper