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French press review 8 January 2014

Hollande divides the left - or has it thrown the right into disarray? Tunisia says no to Sharia in its constitution - or is it just a fudge? And the cist of French workers not turning up to work rises.


On the front page of right-wing Le Figaro we learn that the recent change of direction by President François Hollande, notably his offer of a new deal to French businesses, has deeply divided the left.


And inside Le Monde we are assured that Holland's swerve has thrown the conservative UMP into disarray.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

The president has offered to reduce the cost of taking on employees and simplify the paperwork in exchange for more jobs and a serious approach to negotiations on salaries and conditions.

The political right has been struck dumb by the offer. Normally, as the lights dim on a presidential intevention, the sun comes up on some UMP stalwart, grim dental work to the fore, saying "No, that'll never do, another mistake, chaos, disaster, catastrophe!"

This time, total silence.

Which, paradoxically, adds to the pressure on the president, already accused by some of his own supporters of selling out on socialist principles. According to the chief comrade at the Communist Party, Hollande's latest initiative is a continuation of ideas first established by his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Right-wing rivals Jean-François Copé and and plain-François Fillon will separately break radio silence on the Hollande propositions, Copé today, Fillon later this month.

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Le Monde celebrates the fact that the Tunisian constituent assembly has effectively turned its back on Islamic Sharia law in the debate on the new consitution.

Agreeing to guarantee of freedom of conscience and rejecting Islam as a source of law are, according to Le Monde, advances so far unheard of in the Arab world.

But the controversy may not be over just yet.

Article six of the constitution makes the state the guarantor of freedom of conscience but also gives it a role in "protecting the sacred" and describes the nation as the "guardian of religion".

The Tunisian Human Rights League says that's a lot of guaranteeing, protecting and guarding for one article, without any clear indication what exactly is being talked about. Critics suggest that such a lack of clarity could lead to interpretations that might ultimately threaten individual freedom.

Especially since the ruling Ennahda Party is Islamist and has insisted that the new constitution names Islam as the state religion.

Catholic La Croix gives pride of place to the fact that absenteeism is costing France more and more, despite a relatively stable number of absentees.

Between 2003 and 2011 3.6 per cent of French workers didn't work, because they were sick or had to mind a child who was.

Older employees are more likely than younger ones to miss work because of illness, those with stable contracts are missing more often than part-timers and government employees top the absenteeism rankings.

Like secrets? Find out about the Hidden Paris

Over the past decade the cost of absenteeism in France has shot up by nearly half, partly because salaries have increased but mainly because of long-term absenteeism, the most expensive sort, which accounts for 40 per cent of the total budget.

In Europe the Austrians are the champions of the off-sick league, with the financially struggling, very-happy-to-have-a-job, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish least likely to miss a day or two. They're afraid somebody else will take their job.

Communist l'Humanité continues to beat up the executive, saying the president is increasingly ruling by decree, no longer bothering to debate policies in the National Assembly, thus showing his disregard for parliament, especially the loyal Socialist troops in both houses.

The paper gives no list of laws passed by presidential decree but does quote a Socialist spokesperson as saying the technique is simply used to speed up minor changes to legislation, never to impose new laws.

L'Humanité is worried that touchy topics like multiple jobs for MPs, professional training and the question of "detached" workers, all up for debate in the next few weeks, might be fast-tracked past the assembly and rubber-stamped by a president suspected of selling out on real socialism.


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