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French Press Review 02 Jan 2014

Applications for the one-way tickets to Mars, François Hollande New Year's promises, and  the star people of 2014 dominate the front page stories of the French dailies.

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If you applied to be one of the people to take part in the colonisation of Mars, and you haven't yet received an e-mail confirming that you're on the short-list, the bad news is that you won't, in all probability, be ending your days on the Red Planet.

According to an article in Le Monde, there were over 200,000 applications for the 24 one-way tickets to Mars, with those finally selected being sent off to establish the first-ever human space colony.

That's a lot of applications when you consider the fact that we don't currently have the technology to bring people back from Mars, hence the one-way nature of the deal, we don't really know how to organise human life where temperatures rarely get above -55° and where the atmospheric pollution is nearly as bad as in downtown Shanghai, 95 per cent of the Martian atmosphere being carbon dioxide.

As Elton John famously pointed out, "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids . . ." But that's exactly what the colonising group will be expected to do.

A departure date has not yet been fixed. There are still 1,058 people on the short-list. The next stage will be a television series on the training and selection of the successful candidates, partly to raise some of the seven billion euros it will take to finance the project, partly to test the physical and emotional limits of the volunteers.

Le Monde reminds disappointed candidates that they can still log on the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration and look at photos sent back by the un-manned rover, Curiosity.

Incidentally, Curiosity recently followed Pope Francis and others by taking and transmitting a picture of itself, a "selfie," which term, according to the Oxford Dictionary, was the star word of 2013.

Who are going to be the star people of 2014? That's the question posed by tabloid daily Aujourd'hui en France. They come up with 100 names, some of them complete mysteries . . . Who the hell is Nicolas Sarkozy? . . . Some are already household names and likely to become more so in the course of the next 12 months.

Among the political leaders, Syria's Bashar al-Assad faces not just civil war, but has elections to contend with this year. He can count on international paralysis and divisions between his rebel opponents to keep him in power.

Algeria's Bouteflika shows no signs of being ready to leave office, except maybe feet-first. And Iran's Rohani goes on creating hope for an open future and doubts about his nation's real regional ambitions.

I don't at all like the look of Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi, described by the French paper as the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Middle East. Currently believed to be in Syria, he is considered the third most dangerous islamic terrorist on the planet by the US authorities. He's been on the cover of Time magazine, which is nearly always a bad sign.

Right wing paper Le Figaro gives pride of place to French socialist president, François Hollande, but only to say that his New Year's promise to reduce charges for businesses which take on workers doen't include any details on how the system will work. Of the other presidential promise, to reduce government spending, Figaro says the same thing . . . no details. Worse, says the right wing paper, these were exactly the same promises made 12 months earlier, and he didn't keep them in 2013.

You can't accuse Serge Dassault, the aircraft builder who owns Le Figaro, of being shy of details. In his front-page editorial to mark the start of the new year, Dassault says there's an easy way to cure the nation's financial ills . . . extend the legal working week to 39 hours, but let employers continue paying for 35. That, says Serge, with the kind of ease that comes from being a multi-millionaire, would save the state 21 billion euros per year.

In fairness to Dassault, he criticises all French governments of the past three decades for their failures to face up to economic reality. The plane-making owner of Le Figaro quotes former English Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to the effect that the best policy is neither left-wing nor right-wing, it's the policy which works.

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