January 2012: After the failure of the Legendre bill, the government proposes a more limited change to accommodate the EU

, by Admin

As part of an omnibus bill in parliament, the French government is planning to change the phrasing of the article in AFP’s statutes that lays down its relationship to the state. The agency’s unions give qualified approval.

Joint Union Statement

Possible Change to Part of AFP’s Statutes: Update on the French Government’s Plans

The French government plans to introduce into an omnibus bill currently before parliament an amendment which would modify a single article of AFP’s founding statutes. The aim of the change, included in the Warsmann Bill, is to defuse a conflict with the European Commission over claims that AFP has been receiving illicit government subsidies.

The bill’s sponsors are proposing to add a single line to Article 13 of the 1957 act of parliament that defines the Agency’s statutes. In the modified clause shown below, the added words are in upper-case:

"Agence France Presse’s resources comprise the income it gains from the sale of documents and news services to its customers, FINANCIAL COMPENSATION FROM THE STATE FOR THE NET COSTS INCURRED BY THE CARRYING-OUT OF ITS GENERAL INTEREST MISSIONS and revenue from its assets".

The CFDT, CGC, CGT, FO, SNJ and SUD trade unions, comprising all staff bodies officially authorised to represent headquarters-status staff at AFP, have studied the proposal and sought an appointment with Mme Laurence Franceschini, who represents both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Culture on AFP’s board of governors. The appointment is set for Thursday, January 26.

The Warsmann law is due to be examined in committee at the French National Assembly (lower house) on Wednesday January 25, and then by the full House on Tuesday January 31.

The French’s Government’s Rationale

The amendment’s sponsors have justified the proposed change in the following terms (our translation):

"Article 13 of the Act dated January 10, 1957, laying down the statutes of Agence France-Presse (AFP), lists the agency’s sources of income. It defines only two such sources: ’the sale of documents and news services to its customers’ and ’revenue from its assets’.

"In exchange for its subscriptions to AFP’s services, the state pays the agency substantial sums (115 million euros in 2011). These payments have given rise to the filing of a complaint with the European Commission.

"The said complaint, currently under examination, has highlighted the need to clarify the financial relationship between the state and AFP by distinguishing between subscriptions per se and compensation provided for the general interest missions that parliament has charged the agency with carrying out.

"The said missions result in particular from Articles 1 and 2 of Law n°57-32 of January 10, 1957 defining the Statutes of Agence France-Presse:

"The present article therefore aims to make explicit mention, among the funds available to AFP that are mentioned in Article 13 of the 1957 law, of compensation from the state for the general interest missions that the agency is asked to fulfil.

"Its adoption would make it possible to change the Aims and Means Contract drawn up between the state and AFP so as to specify the said missions and make practical provisions for their compensation. The funds provided by the state to AFP would then be shared out between subscriptions and compensation for general interest missions."

The Joint Unions’ Position

  1. The joint unions are pleased to note that earlier plans for hasty and far-ranging changes to AFP’s statutes have been dropped and replaced by an approach which seems both more prudent and more responsible. For the first time, the notion of "general interest mission" would be explicitly laid out in the agency’s founding statutes. And this with the sole declared purpose of bringing AFP’s financial arrangements into line with the new demands of European legislation, brought in well after the adoption of the 1957 statutes.
  2. We agree with the principle behind the change proposed by the government. However the joint unions ask that the notion of general interest mission(s) be clearly linked to the first two articles of AFP’s statutes, which define the said mission.
  3. For that reason it would be preferable for the amended text to read as follows:

  5. The joint unions are categorically against any other amendment liable to adulterate the 1957 Statutes.
  6. A separate article of the Warsmann omnibus bill aims to change a government order concerning news agencies dating from 1945. The said amendment refers to "private news agencies". AFP’s 1957 statutes, which effectively define the agency as a sui generis entity that is neither state-owned nor private, make no reference to the 1945 order. However the Warsmann Act would replace the word "private" by "commercial companies".
    To avoid any misunderstandings, the joint unions demand the addition of an amendment to the relevant article of the bill which would specify that:
    AFP would thereby remain governed by no other law than that of January 10, 1957.


Possible Need for New Mobilisation

After our appointment with the government representative on Thursday January 26, we will hold a new meeting of the joint unions to discuss our options in the light of the government’s intentions.

If we consider that the situation gives cause for concern, we stand ready to convene a new staff General Assembly in Paris and to renew the mobilisation to defend AFP’s statutes.

AFP staff who have questions or comments to make about the joint unions’ stance are invited to write to the collective internal e-mail address for the unions.

Joint AFP trade unions, January 19 and 26, 2012

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