It is easy to fall into the trap of smugness in Christmas preparation which usually precedes the uncomfortable realisation that something essential has been forgotten. Mindful of this, and recalling the New Year fireworks of years gone past that had fizzed briefly and very unimpressively before entangling themselves in the cherry tree, I swerved into our local purveyor or pyrotechnics for some advice and the pick of his stock before the inevitable last-minute rush. In recent years he has become increasingly obsessed with health and safety but his response on this occasion took me by surprise;” will any French people be present?” he said in his rather nasal twang.
2016 is drawing to an end, which must be as great a relief to the bureaucrats in Brussels as it is to the rest of us. The Austrian election may have restored some confidence but this was a mere sparkler in what is set to become quite an explosive 12 months. The Italian referendum has set that country into a Catherine wheel spin with the departure of the unpopular Matteo Renzi leaving space for the anti-EU Beppe Grillo and his 5-Star movement. Meanwhile my recent trip to Germany assured me that Angela Merkel is going to have trouble lighting the fuse on her ambitions to secure another term in the German elections due to take place in late summer 2017.
But more imminent than all of this is the French presidential election in April where Marine Le Pen continues to draw support away from the mainstream parties and may only be thwarted by the centre right candidate Fillon. You may still be sitting on your winnings from the Trump election result but you can currently get 5.5:1 on Le Pen and a success for her would create a spectacle that would render the night skies incandescent and probably shatter the entire EU dream.
Thinking that our local firework salesman was about to launch into a tirade about the state of European politics, I braced myself for what felt likely to be a lengthy conversation and considered the probability of picking up a ticket for my illegal parking; his issue though was rather more simple and brief, “never leave a Frenchman in charge of explosives,’ he said – perhaps it was a more pithy summary of where we stand than he thought!