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French press review 10 September 2013

Angela Merkel, chemical weapons, crime and tax are among the subjects covered today...

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The main headline in Le Monde reads "Angela Merkel's ambiguities," a reference to the German chancellor's recent decisions to, on Friday, refuse to sign the Group of 20 condemnation of Syria, followed (on Saturday) by her acceptance of the European Community's condemnation of Syria's crime against humanity, specifically the use of sarin gas against rebel sectors of Damascus on 21 August last.

The European document makes no reference to the punitive air strikes so close to the hearts and minds of presidents Obama and Hollande, but it does identify the regime of Bashar al-Assad as responsible for the atrocity.

On France 24

Le Monde sees Merkel, just two weeks from parliamentary elections, trying for some kind of centrist balancing act with a view to capturing a few more votes from the undecided. The vast majority of German voters are opposed to any military intervention in Syria, leaving Merkel the difficult task of keeping the international allies happy and, at the same time, not throwing away vital votes.

What the average Syrian makes of the political use of their situation is anybody's guess.

Hezbollah and the Iranian supreme command must be delighted by western hesitations, divisions and hypocrisy. The red line is, there is no red line!

On an inside page, Le Monde puts the Syrian use of poison gas in stark perspective by pointing out that such weapons have been used only six other times in history, first in World War One in 1915, most recently in Kurdistan in the 1980s during the war between Iran and Iraq.

Gas is a dangerous and inefficient way of killing opponents, says Le Monde, facts which reduce its military significance to almost zero but greatly enhance its status as a weapon of terror. That's what make the Syrian crimes committed in Damascus and at least seven other sites across Syria in recent months so despicable.

Otherwise, the front pages are a strange mix as the editors try to find something other than Syria to get excited about.

Right-wing Le Figaro has a red alert on law and order to give its well-heeled readers a palpitation or two. Crime is on the increase, according to all the latest statistics from the Interior Ministry. There's been a 9 percent increase in the number of break-ins, 10% more sexual aggression, 6 percent more economic crime. Despite all this criminal chaos, the minister supposed to be sorting it out, Manuel Valls, goes from strength to strength in the opinion polls. Le Figaro is aghast, suggesting that France now has an Interior Minister who is soft on crime, and a Justice Minister who is kind to criminals.

Left-leaning Libération is also aghast, calling French leader François Hollande "The bosses' boss". They accuse the socialist president of letting big business off the hook with the competition pact on employment, tax reforms, retirement, top salaries. And all of this, alleges Libé, at the expense of the ordinary tax-payer. This year and next, the tax take from workers is up by 23 billion euros, while that from businesses is expected to rise by just 7 billion.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

There is a logic to the situation, of course, as the government attempts to get the business sector moving again, with a view to creating jobs and stimulating growth.

But, says Libé in a bitter editorial, the same thing could have been achieved, without contradicting election promises or socialist principles, by giving the people more money to spend, boosting the economy from the demand end rather than fiddling with the offer. Nothing less than François Hollande's political life is at stake.

One happy boss, Carlos Ghosn of the Renault car operation, is on the front page of business daily Les Echos, smilingly announcing the 2014 is going to be a record year for the auto industry. Ghosn says he expects a 3 percent increase in global car sales next year, the equivalent of 83 million vehicles. Even Europe, where demand has been in decline for the past five years, is going to buy itself a new car.

My man, Silvio "Il Cavaliere" Berlusconi" is back in the news. Yesterday, Italian senators started debating the man's total and definitive exclusion from politics, with a heart-rending appeal for justice from Andrea Augello, a member of Berlusconi's PDL, who claims that the law which nobbled Silvio in the first place is imprecise, unjust, flawed, overcooked, frayed at the edges and generally not worth the paper it was drafted on.

Early last month, the Italian Appeals Court found Berlusconi guilty of tax evasion of around 7 million euros, his sentence including an immediate exclusion from parliament and a three year suspension from public life. Whatever happens in the senate, you can be sure we have not heard the last of smiling Silvio. That has to be good news!

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