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France

After Parisian snow gridlock, the blame game begins

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-12-10

The harsh winter weather in Paris has settled down, but Prime Minister François Fillon set off a mini-storm of his own Thursday by blaming France’s national weather service for the gridlock during Wednesday’s uncommonly heavy snowfall.

The severe winter weather in Paris had calmed considerably by Friday morning, but another mini-storm was already brewing.

French Prime Minister François Fillon set off a small controversy Thursday by appearing to blame France’s national weather service for the gridlock that brought the Paris area to a standstill on Wednesday during an uncommonly heavy snowfall.

Fillon, one of the more popular members of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration, levelled the criticism while on an official visit in Russia. He said the French meteorological organization Météo France “had not anticipated this snowy episode, or not its intensity, in any case” and as a result “the services in charge of handling snowfall were caught by surprise.”

‘Everyone is stunned’

Météo France defended itself Friday, releasing a statement in which it said: “It is still very difficult, despite constant progress in meteorological science, to predict the exact quantities that will fall and how much the snow will stick to the ground.” A spokesperson for the weather service's union, Emmanuel Celhay, was firmer in his disagreement, telling Agence France: “Everyone is stunned, rather angry, and in total incomprehension of this declaration.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the service had sent out a severe weather alert for the Paris area for the following day. But it was not the highest-level alert. The storm ended up shutting Charles de Gaulle-Roissy airport, paralysing the Paris bus network and closing down the Eiffel Tower for a day. Many people were forced to forgo the warmth of their own beds, spending the night in airports, on the road or even at the workplace while waiting for the weather to clear up.

The government has found itself on the defensive since the storm, as drivers reported complaints that there had not been enough salt put on the roads and that information and assistance had been scarce. Though Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux on Wednesday denied that the situation could be characterised as “a mess”, French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani later called a meeting for Friday to examine France’s handling of the weather.

Meanwhile, French headlines on Friday skewered Fillon for his “verbal blunder”. Certain members of the Socialist Party were even harsher. Former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal appeared on French television Friday morning to denounce the government’s response to the weather. “It wasn’t a mess that we witnessed; it was chaos,” she said, adding that the government had displayed a “mix of guilty inertia, indifference and incompetence”.

Then, targeting Fillon specifically, she declared: “What’s worse in this matter is that they are passing off the responsibility to the public services.”

Even Fillon’s own camp has been scrambling to downplay the prime minister’s swipe at the national weather service. As one government source told Agence France Presse: “François Fillon was a bit hard on Météo France. His statement went beyond what he meant to say.”

Date created : 2010-12-10

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