by Michael Fitzpatrick
Article published on the 2010-02-16 Latest update 2010-02-16 09:27 TU
Four front pages look back to yesterday's "social summit" here in France, where President Sarkozy explained his plans for saving the nation from being swamped by millions of costly pensioners.
There will be a law to readjust how long you have to work before you can retire, but it will be discussed and debated with social partners, and will not be forced through. So, the original deadline of "before the summer holidays" has now been changed to "next autumn".
Les Echos headlines "Sarkozy avoids a clash with the unions". But the business daily goes on to say that the same unions remain on their guard and have called for a day of action - that's French for paralysing the nation - on 23 March.
L'Humanité says the government wants to spare the employers, making workers pay the full cost of proposed reforms. According to a poll in the communist daily, only one voter in five trusts those in power to protect pensions and pensioners. 45 per cent believe it's up to workers themselves to take the initiative, while a mere 14 per cent believe there's anything to be hoped for from the Socialist opposition.
Le Monde's headline says "Sarkozy decides against heavy-handedness".
The paper's editorial explains that the problem won't go away. In the good old days, in 1950, French workers retired at the age of 65 and died at 69. They had the decency to depart before becoming a drain on state resources.
Now, legally entitled to retire at the age of 60, and thanks to all the free pills they get from the health services, workers survive until they are 77, the women hanging on until 84.
Sarkozy mentioned these statistics yesterday, and said they were "good news". But you could tell he didn't mean it. It's a disaster. By the year 2050 there will only be 1.2 workers for every pensioner, and the cost to the state will be 100 billion euros per year.
Libération goes to school, in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, and comes back shaken and stirred by the level and frequency of violence.
And Catholic La Croix goes to the winter Olympics for a blast of sporting joy in the snow.
On inside pages, Le Monde reports from Rome on the outcome of a recent television series which attempted to identify "the greatest Italian of all time".
Luckily for everyone else, my friend Silvio Berlusconi was not among the contenders, because the producers decided to ban current political figures.
But all the other big names were there: Dante, Caravaggio, Puccini, Verdi, Gallileo, Christopher Columbus, Laura Pausini...
Who the hell is Laura Pausini? Well, she's a popular singer, the sort of girl to make Silvio hot under the collar, and she made it into the final evening of four programmes, before being eliminated. She was lucky. Such historic emblems as Cavour, Garibaldi and Mazzini didn't even survive past the pre-selection stage.
Just to put the whole project in perspective: the same programme in France chose Charles de Gaulle. In England they nominated Winston Churchill. And the Americans... well, they went for Ronald Reagan.
Our trans-Alpine neighbours, having finally gotten rid of Ms Pausini, plumped massively for one Leonardo da Vinci. The Tuscan painter and inventor, who died here in France all of 491 years ago, got 83 per cent of the votes, crushing poor old Giuseppi Verdi in second place.
As one commentator put it, to get the Italians to agree about anything, you have to go a long way back in history.
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