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French press review 9 October 2012

Certain bits of age-old wisdom get the stuffing thrashed out of them on this morning's French front pages.

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Take, for example, the ancient truth that left-wing governments demand less tax effort than right-wing ones. Wrong.

Business daily Les Echos compare the taxation situation at the end of the Fillon regime with that at the start of the Ayrault government. The overall tax take has gone up by 65 billion euros, that's three additional points chewed out of Gross National Product, but the socialists and the conservatives are almost identical in the scale of their tax provisions.

Parliamentary elections 2012

The Fillon folk increased the overall tax bill by a mere 16 billion euros in 2011, their last full year at the helm. Ayrault's working class heros hope to collect 28 billion in 2013, their first full year in charge of the national coffers.

Different sectors of society are, of course, targeted by the two main political blocs. The socialists are planning to bring all works of art worth more than 5,000 euros into the net currently covered by wealth tax.

Then there's the adage that crime does not pay. It obviously pays more than an average French policeman's salary. And that explains why 30 members of the Anti-Criminality Brigade in the southern French city of Marseilles are currently suspended from duty, with a dozen long-armed lawmen behind bars, being interviewed by their own colleagues in an effort to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.

The force in question, the Anti-Criminality Brigade, was elevated to star status by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was Interior Minister. He wanted rapid reaction by tough cops on mean streets. But is looks as if the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the group, and the huge amounts of money to be made in Marseilles' various illegal sidelines proved too much for the some of the guardians of law and ordure.

The current suspects are being questioned about theft, extorsion and the sale of illegal substances, said substances having been stolen in the first place from dealers and mules originally arrested by the police.

Those officers who've been locked up in various regional prisons may be sharing cell space with former business clients. Which may encourage a certain level of discretion in their revelations to investigators.

Says the editorial in Libération, this case will encourage a long-needed clean-up of the men in blue. No more independent groups of cowboys, making their own rules as they go along, but a serious community-based force, properly trained and under strict control. There is no contradiction, Libé is happy to point out, between closeness to a community and rapid action.

Which leads me to the hallowed halls of the Paris Institute for Political Studies, universally respected training ground for generations of top analysts, civil servants and, at the bottom of the food chain, journalists.

French politics no stranger to scandals

Six months after the sudden death of the school's director, the government spending watchdog has just completed a review of the way Sciences Po has been spending state money. Basically, the Marseilles Anti-Criminality Brigade could hardly have done a better job.

Massive bonuses, waste of public money, payment for work never done, invisible teaching staff . . . the list of abuses is long and lyrical. The former director had so boosted his own salary, with a 60% increase over six years, as to become the highest paid public servant in France.

The new people in charge have expressed shock at the findings and horror at the way they are being treated in the press. They have promised, in terms similar to those used by the police in Marseilles, to look into the matter.

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