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French press review 18 February 2013

Is somebody spinning the news from Mali? Does the European Commission want to send us nuts? Who is austerity hurting ... and is it hurting enough?


Mali make two of this morning's front pages: Libération wonders "What happened to the war?", whileLe Monde says the key to real stability in the northern desert is an understanding of the Tuareg element.

For Libé, the problem is that there has been no real information, perhaps because there has been so little to report. Why, wonders the left-leaning daily, be so secretive about an operation that has all the appearances of a success and is generally regarded as completely legitimate?

Dossier: War in Mali

The French army denies any intention of filtering the news or of favouring the big national media operators. But the fact remains that in a country at war, in which transport is notoriously difficult at the best of times, there are only so many places available on military aircraft and journalists are not a priority.

One army source tells Libé that some journalists have been acting as if it was a stage of the Tour de France between Timbuktu and Gao. As French armoured divisions advanced on Gao, car loads of journalists actually overtook the army convoy in order to reach the town before the soldiers. When the reporters then got in trouble, they had to be rescued by the army which, luckily, met no resistance in their primary objective which was to liberate the town, not, to quote an irate officer, to baby-sit journalists.

 Le Monde's front page editorial wonders if the European Commission wants to drive us all mad.

This is because the commission, reeling from the news that all its plans and firewalls in the area of food security have failed to prevent the Roumanian horseburger scandal, now plans to reauthorise the use of animal meal in the feeding of farm animals.

In case you've forgotten, that's the practise of grinding up the bones and other otherwise unusable bits of dead beasts to provide a cheap source of protein for other, not-yet-dead, beasts.

It has been illegal in Europe since 1997, when it became clear that the so-called "mad cow" epidemic, which caused the loss of tens of thousands of animal lives, along with hundreds of human victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, was a direct result of this cannibalistic feeding cycle.

Now, under pressure from the farming lobby, struggling to pay for soya and other cereal-based animal feed, Brussels has decided to do away with the ban and will allow animal meal to be used, once again, in fishfarms from the first of June, and on all other farms from 2014.

Le Monde hopes French farmers will resist the temptation once the new regulations come into force but market pressures are likely to force them to follow the competition or go out of business.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Brussels says the entire chain of supply will be carefully monitored to ensure that, for example, cows are never fed meal produced from cow carcasses and so on. Which might just ensure that the next epidemic turns out to be mad pig disease.

But, observes Le Monde, given the incompetence of the food-safety machinery to save us from the dreaded horseburger, what chance has the average cow of being sure she won't end up chewing a chunk of her long dead and completely barmy grandmother? And where does that leave the rest of us, further up the food chain, who may end up chewing bits of both of them? Vegetarianism may be the only answer. 

Austerity is the other big word on the front pages, with both business daily Les Echos and right-wing Le Figaro whingeing about spending cuts, tax increases and the ever-widening gap between income and expenditure.

Le Figaro says new austerity measures, expected to be made public this week, are already worrying some members of the governing Socialist Party, as well as causing a lot of undignified pushing and shoving in the line of ministers whose budgets risk being even further curtailed.

Les Echos agrees that further cuts will have to be made right across the spectrum of national spending and that new sources of tax revenue, or simply increased taxation, will have to be organised in the course of the next 12 months.

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