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French press review 4 March 2011


Three front pages today look at a mysterious spying scandal at Renault. It's all the more mysterious because no evidence has been found that any industrial espionage has been carried out.


Police are investigating after the car maker sacked three of its executives over claims they'd sold company secrets. But investigators haven't found any trace of the Swiss bank accounts into which the accused are supposed to have funnelled their ill-gotten gains. They told the French government that the spying claims may have been a hoax, provoked by internal rivalries and office politics.

Le Figaro has an exclusive interview with Renault’s chief operating officer Patrick Pélata, who doesn't exclude the possibility that the whole thing was made up. He says Renault has either been spied on or hoaxed - either way, it's the victim. If the three executives are proved to have been wrongly accused, Pélata says Renault will re-hire them and make reparations for the injustice done them.

But Les Echos says the company will not be able to repair the damage done quite so easily. It points out that the car industry depends more than any other on customers having confidence in a particular brand. So far Renault's sales do not appear to have been affected - in fact last month they rose by 17.5 percent compared to February 2010 - but many of those are previous orders that are being delivered, so the real cost won't become evident for a while.

Libération says it's basically the worst scandal ever to hit a French company - worse even than Total's Erica oil spill or Perrier's contaminated water bottles. The paper argues it's Renault's strengths that have ultimately proved its weakness: the company follows the Japanese model of having a very precise structure down to the very last detail of its business, which meant that when these accusations surfaced they threw everything into complete chaos. Libé’s also been talking to the unions, who understandably say they're very worried about the whole thing.

A rather grizzly fait divers reported in Le Parisien: yesterday a 78-year-old man went on a killing spree in a town in the south of France. He shot and killed three people before turning the gun on himself. He did not die, however, and is currently in hospital.

L’Humanité has some better medical news: French doctors have announced that the world's first artificial airway graft was carried out at Avicenne hospital in Bobigny near Paris in October 2009. It's the result of more than ten years of hard work, most of it spent developing the graft, which is a small metal tube covered with a section of artery taken from a donor. The patient, a 78-year-old man, is said to be doing very well.

The success of the new technique will obviously give fresh hope to the hundreds of thousands of people who have lung cancer - but, one of the doctors tells Humanité, that doesn't mean that people can continue to smoke with impunity.

Le Monde reports that the French government launches an information campaign on its new ban against the burka today. Some 100,000 posters and 400,000 flyers detailing the restrictions will be distributed across the country. The poster shows France’s national emblem Marianne with her face proudly uncovered.

Meanwhile Le Figaro reports that President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for France to celebrate its Christian roots. He visited one of France's oldest cathedrals in Puy-en-Velay yesterday, where he said: "There's no diversity without identity". He also mentioned France's Jewish heritage for good measure, saying we should think of religion as a good thing, not a danger. This, as his UMP party prepares to launch a debate on French secularism.

Communist L'Humanité dismisses Sarkozy's gestures as a cynical attempt to woo alienated Catholic voters ahead of next year's presidential elections.



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