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France

Yearbook 2008

France. The biggest bank fraud in history was revealed in January when a stock trader at France's second largest bank, Société Générale, was found to have caused losses of € 4.9 billion through volatile securities transactions. A criminal investigation was launched against 31-year-old broker Jérôme Kerviel, who was suspected of being unfaithful to the principal, computer infringement and document forgery.

2008 FranceAccording to Countryaah reports, President Nicolas Sarkozy remarried in February, just three months after his former wife's divorce. The president's romance with ex-model and singer Carla Bruni, initiated shortly after the divorce, had attracted much attention and was followed closely by the press. Many French were critical of what appeared to be a glamorous jet-set life; folk humor dubbed Sarkozy as "president bling-bling". Several public temper tantrums and a political clamor, in which Sarkozy tended to delve into every possible detail, helped many consider him inappropriate for the presidency. After a short year in power, Sarkozy was less popular than any previous president at the same time; less than 40 percent thought he was doing a good job.

2008 Finland

Sarkozy's unpopularity contributed to a major defeat for his party Union for a People's Movement (UMP) in the local elections in March. The Left took over almost half of the larger cities previously controlled by the ruling party and ruled after the election in 25 of the country's 37 largest municipalities.

France's military presence in Afghanistan sparked debate in connection with the deaths of ten French soldiers and twenty others wounded in an attack by Taliban in August. The loss was the largest individual to date among foreign soldiers during the NATO-led operation launched in 2001, and the French army's largest loss of 25 years. A majority of the French, according to opinion polls, wanted to withdraw the troops. Instead, the government decided to provide the more than 2,500-man force with more helicopters, unmanned aircraft and other equipment.

At the turn of the year, France took over the EU Presidency. Thus, Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner came to play an active role in the EU's mediation efforts when war broke out between Georgia and Russia in August. The effort was successful; ceasefire was concluded after a few days of fighting.

Sarkozy continued to maintain a high international profile as the global financial crisis struck with full force during the autumn. The president became one of the main players when Europe's leaders displayed an unexpectedly powerful force of action. His popularity figures were significantly boosted by international efforts.

Following a joint European initiative to save the financial sector, in October Parliament approved a rescue package for banks worth € 360 billion. Sarkozy also promised a package of measures to save jobs, as the financial turmoil caused the notifications to increase sharply at car manufacturers and the construction sector, among others. Before the summer, unemployment in France had reached its lowest level in 25 years.

When the Socialist Party at its congress in November elected a new party leader, Martine Aubry triumphed over Ségolène Royal, after a bitter battle and with very little margin.

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