Spotlight on France

Spotlight on France

RFI English
24 episodes


Interested in France? Let us be your ears and eyes on the ground. Hosts Sarah Elzas and Alison Hird introduce you to the people who make France what it is, and who want to change it - to give you a fuller picture of this country at the heart of Europe. Spotlight on France is a podcast, in English, from Radio France International, out Thursdays.





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21 April 2022

Podcast: Macron vs Le Pen, Mélenchon supporters protest, France's first elected woman

RFI English
The two presidential candidates faced off in a three-hour debate Wednesday in which they tried to convince undecided voters. Did it work? Leftist Mélenchon voters on what to do in the second round. And the first woman elected to office in France in 1925. In the last leg of France's 2022 presidential election, incumbant Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen finally faced off in a debate, aimed at getting undecided voters on side in Sunday's second round runoff. Le Pen tried to show she was in touch with the people and their problems, and the leader of a rehabilitated far right ready and able to govern. Macron, criticised by some for being aloof and arrogant, aimed to highlight fundamental differences between him and his rival, notably on Europe and the Muslim veil. He also sought to show that the choice of president will have a major impact on France. Did the debate convince anyone? (Listen @0') As well as the two candidates, a third important figure in this election remains the leader of the hard-left France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. After winning 22 percent of the vote in the first round, the question of where those votes go in the runoff has led to him being called a kingmaker. He called for voters to block Le Pen, but stopped short of endorsing Macron, and his party voted overwhelmingly to abstain or cast blank ballots. Who are these voters, and what is driving their decisions? (Listen @11'15'') Follow RFI's coverage of the 2022 presidential election here. If Marine Le Pen wins, she would become France's first female president, nearly a hundred years after the first woman was elected to any office. On 3 May 1925, Joséphine Pencalet was elected to the city council in the Brittany town of Douarnenez. But because women were not yet allowed to vote, her time in office was short-lived. (Listen @8'30'') This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
07 April 2022

Podcast: Yellow Vests' revenge, rising abstention, the end of France's brothels

RFI English
Yellow Vest militants hope to vote Macron out of office. How younger generations are shifting their relationship to voting. And the WWI spy who lobbied successfully to shut down France's brothels in 1946. Candidates running in the first round of presidential elections this Sunday have made the rising cost of living and drop in spending power a key campaign issue. Prices are going up, driven by soaring petrol and energy costs. President Emmanuel Macron, who is running for re-election, knows only too well how angry people can get over fuel hikes: his attempts to introduce a tax on diesel sparked the Yellow Vest protest movement in November 2018 that turned into a revolt against him. While the Covid lockdown in March 2020 put an end to weekly protests, the Yellow Vest did not die out and some militants see the election as a way of finally getting shot of Macron. Agnès and Nathalie joined the Yellow Vests in Chartres, and feature in a documentary film about the movement, Un peuple (A French Revolution), by Emmanuel Gras. They talk to us about how their lives have changed since 2018 and why the battle is far from over. (Listen @2'56'') Macron is leading in the polls but the key to winning the 2022 presidential election will depend a lot on voter turnout, which has been steadily decreasing in most French elections in the last two decades. However, political scientist Vincent Tiberj (@vtiberj), editor of a recent book of essays about voting behaviour in France, Extinction de vote (Vote extinction), points out that abstention rates vary, depending on the election and the issue at hand. He talks about how voting has changed drastically in France over the last couple of generations. (Listen @23'20'') On 13 April 1946, France closed its 1,400 brothels, thanks to a woman named Marthe Richard. Prostituted as a teenager, she went on to have a particularly varied and colourful life – as a pilot, spy and politician. (Listen @16'45'') This episode was mixed by Nicolas Doreau. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
24 March 2022

Podcast: the hunting vote, France welcomes Ukrainians, non-binary Barthes

RFI English
France's presidential candidates court the hunting vote; how France is welcoming Ukrainian refugees; and Roland Barthes – ahead of his time in thinking about non-binary identity and language. Hunting is France's third most popular pastime, after fishing and football, and the country's 1.1 million licence holders see themselves as a political force. Presidential candidates have been pushed into addressing hunting after some high-profile accidents led to calls to curb – or even ban – it. Several were recently invited to address the French federation of hunters (FNC) and lay out their policies. Hunter Denis Plat (@platdenis), editor of the online hunting magazine J'aime la chasse (I love hunting), defends the tradition and says it's far more socially and politically diverse than its image. Faced with what they see as an attempt "to destroy a certain way of life", hunters are ready to fight back. (Listen @1'58) France is prepared to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing Russia's invasion, with citizens offering spaces in their homes and donating clothes, toys and other basic necessities. Paris has set up a Ukrainian welcome centre to help people get temporary residency papers and find housing. We visit the centre at the Porte de Versailles and meet people arriving in France for the first time, not as tourists, but as refugees. Their welcome is strikingly different from the one refugees from other countries have received in France, says Emmanuel Olliver, director of the French Salvation Army. (Listen @19'20) French intellectual and essayist Roland Barthes, who died on 26 March 1980, is remembered for his ground-breaking work on semiology, but he also anticipated the question of non-binary identity and language. (Listen @15'15) This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
10 March 2022

Podcast: far-right semantics, 'green' nuclear energy, French baby benefits

RFI English
Dissecting the nationalist and racist language of presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, France's push to label nuclear energy as green. And the origins of family aid policies that have supported France's high birth rate for over 90 years. One of France's 12 presidential candidates is the unashamedly xenophobic, anti-Islam writer and political pundit Eric Zemmour, whose popularity partially stems from his way with words. Using literary and historical references, he puts a positive spin on some of France’s more difficult historical moments, praising colonialism or claiming the Vichy regime protected French Jews. Semiologist Cécile Alduy (@cecilealduy), author of La langue de Zemmour (The language of Zemmour), has dissected the structure of his discourses. She talks about how this enables him to advance his political and ideological ambitions and how he has differentiated himself from the other far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. (Listen @3'10'') Even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine – which has called Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas into question – energy prices were soaring in France. As Europe now looks for alternatives to gas, France's reliance on nuclear as its major energy source puts it in a unique position. President Emmanuel Macron recently touted nuclear as the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has backed a European Commission proposal to label nuclear energy a “green” investment. But some climate activists have called this greenwashing. French Greens MEP Marie Toussaint (@marietouss1) says France's dependence on nuclear hinders a real revolution in its energy economy, and will hamper its long-term emissions goals. (Listen @19'20'') The "allocations familiales" or family allowance is a cornerstone of France's social benefits system. The monthly stipend is universal and increases with the number of children. The benefits were officially introduced with a law on 11 March 1932, though their roots go back to WW1 when France's declining birth rate became a cause for concern. (Listen @13'30'') This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
24 February 2022

Podcast: training French Imams, funding women's startups, journalist of the Revolution

RFI English
Imams-in-training learn about the roots of their religion, and the specific context of an 'Islam of France'. Breaking the glass ceiling as women entrepreneurs push for more startup funding. And the journalist who called on Parisians to rise up for democracy during the French Revolution. The French government has innagurated the first Forum of the Islam of France to figure out how to structure a so-called 'Islam de France', or Islam of France. One question is whether to give Imams an official status, which would involve formal training, as a tool to fight against radicalisation. Three institutions in France currently provide this kind of training, including the Al Ghazali Institute in the main Paris Mosque, which trains Imams and Mourchidates – the equivalent for women. For the students, the training is a way to better understand their religion within a French context, governed by the principles of laicité. (Listen @2'45'') In the early days of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron pledged to turn France into a startup nation, setting up a 5-billion-euro fund which has made good on his hope for France to have 25 so-called "unicorns" – billion-dollar companies – by 2025. The number was reached ahead of schedule, but only one of them was formed by a mixed group. Women entrepreneurs struggle to raise capital to scale up their business, but the Sista collective aims to close the gender finance gap in France's startup world. Marine Wetzel, co-founder of a femtech startup Imana Care (an app to help women with hormonal imbalance), talks about the challenges of getting financing and what Sista is doing to help. (Listen @14'50'',) Camille Desmoulins, born 2 March 1760, was a renowned journalist and pamphleteer who spoke out in favour of a Republic in the runup to the Revolution and used his oratory skills to spur Parisians to storm the Bastille. He was also one of the first people in France to defend freedom of expression. (Listen @9'45'') This episode was mixed by Nicolas Doreau. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
10 February 2022

Podcast: Bullshit jobs, vegan eggs, women's lib appliances

RFI English
Does French work culture tolerate bullshit jobs for the sake of work/life balance? Developing a vegan egg in a country with no strong vegan culture but an egg-heavy cuisine. How Moulinex helped free French women from their culinary shackles. When American anthropologist David Graeber coined the term 'bullshit jobs' in a 2018 book, his definition rested on self-reporting: if someone feels their job is pointless, then it is. His argument was that bullshit jobs are a product of capitalism, which requires everyone to work. The concept took off in popular culture around the world. But Franco-German journalist Nicolas Kayser-Bril (@nicolaskb), who has worked his share of bullshit jobs, noticed it had not been picked up by academics. So he researched and wrote his own book, Imposture à temps complet: Pourquoi les bullshit jobs envahissent le monde (Full time imposters, why bullshit jobs are taking over the world), in which he refined Graeber’s definition. Turns out bullshit jobs are 'opaque' and 'unclarifiable', and France is full of them. (Listen @3'20'') France is known more for its butter croissants and egg-based creams than for its vegan cooking, but a startup is hoping to change that. Two female scientists have developed Le Papondu (Not laid), an entirely plant and mineral-based egg that cooks just like a chicken egg. The market for vegan and vegetarian food in France remains small, but it is growing, as are allergies in children which partly motivated the young scientists to hatch their vegan alternative. And how do they taste? (Listen @21') On 16 February 1932, French industrialist Jean Mantelet patented the ‘moulin-legumes’, a food mill intended to help his wife in the kitchen. His company went on to create the first electric appliances in France, and in 1957 it became Moulinex, which advertised itself as 'liberating women in the kitchen with the press of a button'. (Listen @16'48'') This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
27 January 2022

Podcast: Paris Attacks trial drama, school bullying, French anti-intellectualism

RFI English
France's biggest-ever court case continues with dramatic interventions from witnesses and defendents. A bill to criminalise bullying at school and university raises questions. The 19th century roots of growing anti-intellectualism in France. The trial of 14 men accused of taking part and planning the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks is now at the halfway point. RFI journalist Michael Fitzpatrick has been covering the trial from the outset, and has written about it as a “ritual” of justice. He talks about the drama inherent in such a ritual, and the impact the trial has had on survivors of the attacks and families of victims – many of whom are participating as 'partie civil' (civil party). Their desire to put their suffering and grief into public record may well extend the trial beyond May, when it was scheduled to end. (Listen @0'00) Around one out of 10 children in France have experienced some form of harassment at school and a draft bill going through parliament would make bullying in schools and universities a criminal offence. But is this an adapted response? At a centre outside of Paris to help bullied kids, parents and children talk about feeling helpless faced with harassment which has pushed some children to take their own lives. (Listen @16'50'') Intellectuals play an important role in public life in France, but a certain anti-intellectualism is growing, with critiques of race and gender studies in universities, and nationalists positioning themselves against leftist universalism. The negative connotation is not new however and can be traced back to the 19th century, in an article published on 1 February 1898 in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair. (Listen @11'10'') This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
13 January 2022

Podcast: Political swearing, Molière and women, King Behanzin's surrender

RFI English
Which Macron vowed to "piss off" the unvaccinated and why? The 17th century female playwrights around Molière, as France marks his 400th anniversary with pomp and circumstance. The African kingdom that made France tremble in the 19th century, until its king surrendered. President Emmanuel Macron shocked France when he used a curse word to describe his Covid strategy to put pressure on the unvaccinated, calling them irresponsible and non-citizens. Research suggests that such a confrontational approach is more likely to push people away from vaccination, so the message could be counter-productive. Unless, that is, he was addressing a different audience. Political scientist Philippe Moreau Chevrolet (@moreauchevrolet) says Macron’s strategy may pay off electorally in the short term, but it comes at a price. (Listen @0') 17th century playwright Molière is a school curriculum staple in France and his plays are performed all around the world. As France marks the 400th anniversary of his birth, people are battling to appropriate his legacy – either nostalgic for a bygone glorious era or trying to establish his contemporary 'Republican' credentials. Moliere's satirical works poked fun at authority, and he denounced violence against women. But actor, director and researcher Aurore Evain (@auroreevain) cautions against calling him a feminist. She speaks about the influence of female actors around Molière and her discovery of 17th century women playwrights who influenced both him and his work. (Listen @16'50'') When France returned the Benin Bronzes in November 2021, it was returning treasure from the Dahomey kingdom, which fell on 15 January 1894 when King Behanzin surrendered to the French army after two wars. Today he is remembered as the monarch who made French tremble, but his kingdom, and the treasures in it, were also a product of the slave trade. (Listen @11'25'') This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani and Erwan Rome. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app (
16 December 2021

Podcast: Inclusive language, improbable roommates, the Dreyfus affair

RFI English
Inclusive writing and gender-neutral language divide France. The merits of homesharing across generations. And the trial that started the Dreyfus affair, kicking off a left-right split that's still felt today. The recent addition of the gender-neutral pronoun 'iel', a contraction of  "il" (he) and "elle" (she), into the Petit Robert's online dictionary became a national drama, fuelling very vocal opposition to inclusive writing. Its opponents present it as a threat not only to the French language, but the country’s core values. French is a gendered language, and the masculine takes precedence, but academics and linguists have been working on how to write in a less gender-biased way. Raphaël Haddad (@raphaelhaddad), author of a guide to inclusive writing and whose company teaches local authorities and corporations how to use it effectively, talks about its development, despite the pushback. And literature “professeuse” Eliane Viennot explains how inclusive language is in fact a French tradition. (Listen @1'45''). The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the downside of living alone – with elderly people on their own and isolated students in small studios especially hard hit during lockdowns. Some housing programmes have brought these two groups of people together through the concept of intergenerational living, matching elderly people with a spare room in their homes with young people looking for accommodation in cities short on affordable student housing. Parisien roommates Jeanne and Brigitte were matched by Pari Solidaire, which has seen a gradual increase in demand for this kind of housing, after a drop last year due to the health crisis. (Listen @18'20''). Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was sentenced to life in prison on 22 December 1894 for allegedly selling military secrets to Germany. It was the start of a decade-long crisis, which came to be known as the Dreyfus affair. It split France politically and brought deep-seated anti-Semitism to the surface. The results of both still resonate in France today. (Listen @14'05''). This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app.
02 December 2021

Podcast: Green hydrogen, sperm shortages and France's other revolution

RFI English
A visit to the world's first green hydrogen production plant, in western France. Major delays in IVF for all women, months after legalisation. And the Canut revolt of 1831 – the first workers' protests of the industrial revolution. Is hydrogen the energy of the future? Some say the future is now. Lhyfe, a startup in Brittany in western France, has opened what it says is the world's first green hydrogen production plant, extracting the gas from water using electricity generated from local wind turbines. CEO Matthieu Guesné says when he started talking about green hydrogen in 2017, no one paid attention. Today, France is investing billions in the technology. We visit the plant and take a ride in a hydrogen vehicle in Nantes, whose transit authority, Semitan, is experimenting with the technology. (Listen @3'26'') France passed a law this summer allowing single women and lesbian couples to get fertility treatment, previously reserved for heterosexual couples. Single women seeking IVF used to have to go abroad, often to neighbouring Spain or Belgium. There's been a surge in demand since the new law came into effect but the system is unable to keep up. Eloïne Fouilloux, vice-president of support group Les enfants d’arc en ciel, talks about staffing shortages in French fertility clinics and the cultural taboo against sperm and egg donations, which contributes to the problem. (Listen @18'37'') In 1831, after an uprising of Canut silk workers in Lyon, King Louis Philippe cracked down, crushing one of the first workers' protests of the industrial era. (Listen @13'50'') This episode was mixed by Cecile Pompeani. Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on, iTunes (link here), Spotify (link here), Google podcasts (link here), or your favourite podcast app.