Warm greetings to all for a fulfilling and inclusive 2020 and the beginning of a new decade. As this past eventful decade and its closing year of 2019 come to an end, we are all hopeful that 2020 will be a turning point for more than the beginning of a new decade. We are talking about a turning point in politics, of course, but also a more fundamental turning point in the political will to make a difference in support of human rights, healthy and sustainable livelihoods, freedom, dignity, and a clean and safe environment for generations to come.
At the beginning of this eventful year of 2019, I shared some opening thoughts on the “blue wave” in our home country of citizenship (the US) and on “the yellow vests” movement in our home country of residence (France). And I wondered what the many potentially pivotal events of 2019 might do to influence the direction of our lives going forward. We have indeed been thrilled by the positive outcome in November of state-level electoral developments in the US (especially in Virginia), and we have closely followed the impeachment hearings there while recognizing how frustrating it has become to confront the rigidly partisan divide in American politics. The combination of the impeachment trial and Democratic Party processes to select a candidate to reverse the disaster of 2016 will dominate our attention and efforts early in 2020.
As expats living in France, however, we continue to appreciate developments in the French political world and its dynamic relationship with the European Union. The “gilets jaunes” movement was at its height at the end of 2018, and we wondered how the movement would develop in 2019. In the early months, President Emmanuel Macron was very visible in a “national dialogue” on multiple issues regarding governance, finance, public services and the environment. He also diverted some of the expectations for concrete actions to the formation of a specially appointed national commission, whose report is scheduled only for spring 2020. And then the domestic focus shifted rather quickly to the European Parliamentary elections, while the “yellow jacket” protests themselves gradually dissipated through the summer and early fall months. But in the place of the “yellow vests”, the end of the year brought a more structured series of protests against pension reforms from the striking labor unions. So the French tradition of protests continues even if the unique phenomenon of the unstructured “yellow vests” has gone dormant if not faded away.
At the EU level, the political reconfigurations from the European Parliamentary elections in May were less dramatic than predicted or feared regarding the possibility of an extremist partisan upsurge. The good news is the extremes did not overwhelm – the centrists especially moved ahead, albeit with the complications of Brexit looming over everyone’s heads. Franco-German dominance is still evident, too, even though some observers have disparaged the weakness and divergent views of the two governments. But the new alignments mean that the EU is taking climate change (and other concerns like immigration) more seriously, even when the rest of the world is in somewhat of a holding pattern. And in spite of the disappointing British vote in December and the impending British withdrawal from the EU, we can look hopefully to 2020 for major breakthroughs in the US and in the Paris Agreement. We will gladly work with others to realize positive results in these areas.
On a personal front, the home base of Villa Ndio continues to keep us well occupied. Ralph has advanced dramatically on his photographic skills, and Kathy has completed her certification as a teacher of English as a foreign language. We have welcomed numerous clusters of friends to Villa Ndio throughout the year, and we are developing a solid base of experience and understanding of the many Franco-American connections in the area. We look forward to more time with friends and family in 2020. And while local community affairs are increasingly attracting our interest, especially with municipal elections coming up in March, we are also finding the Villa Ndio perspective to open up new insights into what is happening in the broader world around us – on human rights, immigration, gender equality, workers rights, climate change, privacy, you name it! So the work on commentaries, musings and snippets will continue – and even progress on a book-length overview on the lessons learned for inclusiveness – in all of these levels and issue areas!
Warmest best wishes for 2020! Please let us know how you are doing!
Ralph (Peppy) Doggett and Katherine (Kathy) Hagen