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French press review 20 January 2014

Could petrol be cheaper, Iranian nuclear deal comes to effect and Syrian peace talks open in Geneva, are all topics in today's French papers.

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Tabloid Aujourd'hui en France gives pride of place to the possibility that petrol could be selling for half its current price, provided the reseves of oil and gas currently trapped in underground shale formations can be tapped and exploited, without further damaging the planet.

Apart from the likely effect of cheaper petrol on national economies and on individual wallets, there will also be a major geo-political impact, says Aujourd'hui en France, as the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries in the Gulf would lose much of their influence. The impact would obviously be negative for the balance of payments of African oil countries like Nigeria and Algeria.

There's good news for rich people on the front page of business daily Les Echos.

Five years after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank, and the start of the financial crisis, the value of shares in the top forty French companies are now back to pre-crisis levels.

But France could do better. Wall Street, Frankfurt and London wiped out the effects of the crisis long ago, and have continued into the financial stratosphere. Analysts say the outlook is good for European share values, but that increases this year will be moderate.

Le Figaro's editorial looks to the Middle East at the start of another crucial week. Today, the Iranian nuclear deal comes into effect, and then the Syrian peace talks open in Switzerland on Wednesday.

In each case, says Le Figaro, the West is obliged to find a balance between due prudence and the desire to enforce a solution.

On France 24

The two situations are distinct: Syria's civil war has killed at least 130,000 people and displaced millions. Iran's continued advance along the road to a nuclear weapon has both regional and global implications, none of them positive.

But the West needs Iranian help to calm the Syrian situation, so the two are not as separate as they might seem. A lot will depend on how serious the new boys in Teheran are about toeing the international line, and on how much they want regional peace.

Two stories about politics and money from inside Le Monde . . .

The first concerns an Italian local politician by the name of Roberto Cota. He, along with the 39 members of the Regional Assembly in the northern state of Piedmont over which Roberto presides, will have to appear before a judge to explain how their personal expenses over four years managed to reach the not inconsiderable sum of 1.7 million euros.

The lads are suspected of having exaggerated their mileage claims by charging for trips from their holiday homes in Sicily, at the other end of the Italian peninsula. They bought fridges, washing machines and TVs at the taxpayer's expense. They employed relatives in well-paid positions, while at least one of those relatives was actually living and working in France. Signore Cota bought two pairs of swimming togs in Boston, and got reimbursed 40 euros. Basta!

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Not only do the lads have a date in court, the voters of Piedmont will be listening to every word of evidence. Because the next local elections are going to be held this year, 12 months earlier than expected.

Roberto Cota's Northern League party has decided that, whatever his judicial fate, Roberto might not be the best man for the job. He has been denied the party ticket.

The other funny-money story concerns the price of a Schengen Zone passport. You can become a Maltese citizen and a member of the European Union for just 650,000 euros and a few technical investments. There is no residence obligation . . . just send in the money and they'll post you back the passport.

The officials in Brussels are horrified at the idea that criminals, Russians, former African presidents, anyone with lots of cash, could soon be walking the streets of the 28-nation club.

The Maltese says they need the billion dollars the scheme is expected to earn to invest in hospitals, infrastructure, education. If Brussels can come up with the same amount of cash to protect the sanctity of European space, the authorities in Valetta might be prepared to talk business.

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