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French press review 16 December 2011

The 79-year-old Jacques Chirac is the first former or serving president of modern France to be tried and that sent the papers into frenzy. And there is hand-wringing over the country's economic prospects.

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The top story in the French press is the sentencing on Thursday of former French president Jacques Chirac to a suspended jail term of two years. He was found guilty of using the civic payroll to employ 19 personal campaign staff when he served as mayor of Paris between 1990 and 1995. The Paris court ruled that Chirac’s criminal conduct cost Paris taxpayers the equivalent of 1.4 million euros.

"Jacques Chirac sentenced" headlines La Croix, in its cover story, the Catholic daily underlining that the former French president was handed a two-year suspended prison term, for awarding fake job contracts to cronies at Paris City Hall.

Libération publishes a full-page photo in black and white of Jaques Chirac with the caption, “Breach of trust, embezzlement of public funds and influence-peddling”. The left-leaning newspaper underlines that the verdict ends a long legal drama which also saw the conviction of current foreign minister, Alain Juppé, Chirac’s cabinet chief at the time to a suspended prison sentence.

"Bad end for Chirac", statesLe Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France. The popular Parisian newspaper breathes a sign of relief that Jacques Chirac has decided not to appeal the case. Chirac it notes, did not appear in court to hear the verdict as he is suffering from what doctors describe as "severe and irreversible" neurological problems, including memory loss.

The papers publish a flurry of reactions from politicians across the political divide.
Prime Minister François Fillon is widely quoted, regretting the time it took to prosecute the case, which was filed 20 years ago. He says he doesn’t believe the court decision will alter the personal relationship that exists between the French people and Jacques Chirac who ruled the country between 1995 and 2007.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande, who like Chirac hails from the Corrèze region, notes with a measured degree of frankness that justice has been done but expresses sympathy for the sick former president.

The Chirac verdict shares the spotlight with a warning by the official statistics agency, Insee, that France will fall into a brief recession in the final quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2012.

Insee analysts state that the government's 2012 growth target of 1.0 per cent will be difficult to achieve. It explains that while feeble growth of 0.1 per cent is expected in the second quarter, gains of 1.3 per cent in the second half of the year would be needed to generate the target set in the government's latest austerity budget.

France on the brink of recession” warns Le Figaro, with an apparent note of embarrassment, pointing to the slowing down of economic activity that is set to persist right into the spring.

Les Echos is more emphatic about the extent of the recession, explaining that the prospects aren’t just bleak for France but also for the whole of Europe.

The financial newspaper La Tribune claims that the eurozone officially slumped into recession during the fourth quarter of 2011. It explains that the situation is tantamount to a triple sentence, marked by austerity, recession and the degradation of France’s triple-A credit rating.

And Le Monde notes with dismay the sudden rise in European interest rates, stating that this alone is the clearest indicator that the markets have definitely repudiated the accords signed in Brussels last week.

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