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French press review 10 January 2012

The race to become the next president of France grabs the headlines in the French media.

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French presidential opinion polls for starters, and confirmation that the gap between François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy is closing.

The figures are completely different from yesterday's opinion polls, but that's statistics for you.

According to today's exclusive findings, in the popular daily, Aujourd'hui en France, 28 per cent of French voters say they will support Socialist Hollande in the first round, with 24 per cent prepared to give Sarko a second chance. Seventeen per cent say they will vote for extreme right National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen thinks she's doing brilliantly, trailing the current president by just seven points. She says seven points is nothing with over three months to go, stressing that the typical National Front voter crawls out of his burrow at the last moment, and that Marine Le Pen hasn't really got down to the job of launching her campaign which, she says, is different from the other leading candidates because it is actually based on a project.

Marine Le Pen thinks she'll survive into the second round, where she imagines she'll face François Hollande.

Aujourd'hui en France doesn't see her surviving that long, saying the second round will see Hollande beat Sarkozy by a clear 14 per cent. Stay tuned, folks, we'll have further contradictory statistics tomorrow.

One rogue element tomorrow's pollsters will have to consider is Eric Cantona. That's because the former footballer-turned-actor and full-time living legend, has gone in search of the 500 signatures of French mayors necessary to launch an official run for the presidency of the Republic.

In fact, Eric doesn't want to be president of France, which is probably just as well, considering the way he used to deal with opposition supporters when he was playing for Manchester United.

What he does want to do is draw attention to the fact that there are nearly three million people living in lodgings that are not suitable for human habitation.

According to left-leaning Libération, 10 million French people are either not housed at all, badly housed or have a precarious tenure on their homes.

Interviewed by Libé, Eric Cantona explains that he detests what he calls the current politics of profit, where everything comes down to the bottom line. Hospitals, for example, are run to help the sick and injured, not to produce a healthy balance sheet.

The secret of good government, says Eric, is balance, knowing where to spend the money to improve people's lives, and where to insist on cost-effectiveness.

It sounds like the sort of policy François Hollande would do well to adopt.

The right-wing Prime Minister Frank Fillon is on the front page of right-wing Le Figaro, criticising the very same François Hollande.

What's poor Pink Frank done this time? Well, says Blue Frank, he published an open letter in Libération last week in which he painted a grim picture of France, saying the country was "weakened, on its national knees, in the pit, downgraded".

Instead of praising the Socialist contender for his honesty, Fillon says the man should stop selling "rustic catastrophism". You have to wonder where François Fillon has been recently.

We were talking about statistics? Well here's one from Le Monde: 30 per cent of French 17-year-olds leave school without having learned to read properly.

Five per cent are completely illiterate; another five per cent can read the sounds but don't grasp the sense; 10 per cent have very limited reading skills; and the remaining 10 per cent are so slow they can hardly be considered to be reading at all, because they forget the beginning of most complex sentences before they reach the end.

France spends 15 per cent less on school education than most countries in the OECD, according to the Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development. But that's far from being a saving.

A Canadian study of adult illiteracy suggests that, if all those who cannot read the warnings on medicine bottles, who can't fill in employment applications, who can't write an account of an accident for their insurers, were to learn the necessary skills, the savings to the state would be at least 16 billion euros each year.

The really bad news is that the French are getting worse. French 15-year-olds scored an average of 505 in international reading tests in the year 2000, but were down to a score of 496 in the same tests in 2009.

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