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French press review 21 January 2014

The French dailies are all about the French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën and its alliance with the French state and a Chinese investment consortium...  

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French car manufacturer Peugeot is making front-page news this morning, but the story is anything but clear.

Le Monde's main headline assures us that "France saves Peugeot from Chinese clutches," while business daily Les Echos offers to explain why the struggling French company has turned to China to guarantee its future. Communist L'Humanité seems inclined to pessimism with the colourful headline "Chinese tiger devours French lion," the lion in question being the symbol of the Peugeot company.

L'Humanité notes that the French state and a Chinese investment consortium are the new owners of the company, previously family-owned, and the communist daily wonders what social guarantees will be threathened by the deal, and what do the changes mean for the long-term development of the group.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The facts are fairly straightforward: Peugeot shares were yesterday worth less than a quarter of their January, 2008 value. The company's sales are steadily declining. In contrast, the chief Chinese player in the new deal, Dongfeng Motors, has seen sales steadily build over the same period.

But, of course, Dongfeng vehicles cost a lot less than Peugeot ones, mainly because they're made by workers who earn less, strike less and whinge less than their French counterparts. The big question is how long this marriage between a socialist government shareholder and a profit-making private enterprise can stay happy.

An editorial in Les Echos takes a positive view of the alliance, saying that it makes sense to combine French technology and brand recognition with Chinese money and the huge Asian market. The British car industry signed deals with Japanese "invaders" in the 1980s, and Britain now produces more vehicles domestically than the French do. French has more to win from this deal than she has to lose, says Les Echos. But the crucial question remains: why would you build a car in France when you could do the same job far more cheaply in Wuhan. "Dongfeng," by the way, means "east wind" in Chinese, and they already have a working relationship with Peugeot rivals, Renault. It will end in tears.

There's further proof in Le Monde that life is just a pale imitation of art.

If you remember the 1988 movie, "Rasta Rocket", you'll remember the exploits of the Jamaican four-man bobsleigh team at the Calgary Winter Olympics.

That was fiction broadly based on fact. They weren't very fast but they won a lot of hearts, and that's what Olympic competition is supposed to be all about.

Last weekend, the Jamaican two-man bobsleigh team announced that they had qualified for the next Games, which open in the Russian resort of Sotchi early next month.

But they had precisely none of the 60,000 euros needed for transport and equipment. Enter several hundred fairy-godmothers, via internet, and in less time than it takes to say "Sotchi, here we come!" the boys had collected nearly 20,000 euros.

Then the Jamaican Olympic Committee decided they could pay for transport; the local organising committee looks after athletes during the Games; so the boys are currently sitting pretty.

No decision has yet been made on the future of the cash collected. Maybe the team can use it for a champagne celebration if they survive?

Left-leaning Libération wonders if bosses are to be trusted. The question is posed because today sees the start of negotiations between the social partners aimed at putting François Hollande's jobs deal into practice: if the bosses take on more workers, the state will take less tax.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Tabloid Aujourd'hui en France is enthusiastic about the prospects, saying as many as one and a half million jobs could be created (or existing jobs protected) by reducing the cost of taking on (or keeping) staff, reckoned by the paper as representing 60 per cent of the total wage bill. The same charges come in at just 20 per cent in the United Kingdom, and a mere 3 per cent in Denmark. As for what social charges amount to in the Dongfeng factories in Wuhan . . .

Le Monde also reports that Rosetta, the European space probe launched a decade ago and that has been "asleep" since June, 2011, yesterday sent back a message from deep space saying she was alive and well and was awaiting instructions.

Rosetta has a date with the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August next year, and will attempt to land a probe on the flying space rock, something we've never done before. A giant step for a space probe.

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