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French press review 22 January 2014

The Syrian peace talks, opening on Tuesday in Switzerland, dominate the French front pages this morning, although there's still room for talk of taxes and the government's social policy.

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L'Humanité's main story says these talks must not fail. But the communist daily admits that the negotiations will start under the worst auspices possible, with several crucial regional and local elements absent.

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Already Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that the exclusion of Iran from the Swiss talks is the work of those who want to see these talks crowned by regime change in Syria, something which Moscow has refused to consider at any stage in the international wrangle over what to do about Bashar al-Assad.

L'Humanité also points out that the ever-growing influence of Islamist extremists in the anti-Assad camp has been a blessing for the Syrian leader, since it has left the timid West terrified that any material aid, especially weapons, might go directly into the hands of those who have vowed holy war against the Western democracies.

Left-leaning Libération's headline on the same topic reads "The impossible peace", a reflection of a general pessimism surrounding this second phase of talks.

Catholic La Croix is happy to note that this will be the first time representatives of the Syrian government and a majority of those opposed to that government will sit down together at the same negotiating table.

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But La Croix says peace is "improbable", given that the delegations arrive with diametrically opposed objectives, that the opposition is weakened by its internal divisions and by recent military setbacks, that no international consensus exists to help drive these talks to a worthwhile conclusion.

The first round of Swiss talks, which took place 18 months ago, changed nothing. People have continued to die, 130,000 of them so far, and the plight of the millions of refugees is unthinkable.

La Croix warns that this war will continue to haunt the West, first as an unresolved conflict between a dictatorial leader and a nation left to its own devices, when the thousands of holy warriors currently fighting in rebel ranks return to their home countries, defeated, battle-hardened and more determined than ever.

Business daily Les Echos says that the French are going to pay less tax, from next year, provided they don't starve or go out of business in the meantime.

This emerged yesterday as French President François Hollande met the bosses with a view to explaining the fine print of his "responsability pact" under which buisinesses will pay less in taxes and social charges if they take on more staff. The president said that he'd get the charges for companies down by 10 billion euros by 2017, with a "significant gesture" in the right direction as early as 2015. Then he went on to say that, if conditions were favourable, even individual taxpayers could begin to profit from the government's generosity.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The powers-that-be are caught between reducing the national debt, reigning in state spending and promising to reduce the tax level for all and sundry.

But it appears to be a necessary fiction, since the weight of taxation has now replaced declining purchasing power as the number one preoccupation of the average French voter.

According to a survey published in Le Monde, the same French voter has no confidence in politics or political parties and very little in journalists or the media.

Right-wing Le Figaro says the Socialist government is changing French society,and not just by making us all as poor as mice in a mosque.

According to Figaro's main story this morning, Socialist initiatives on such questions as same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, have been intended to divide the right-wing opposition and reassure traditional Socialist voters. With the added advantage, says Le Figaro, that the debate on these fundamental social questions - all of them already covered by workable and working laws - creates a distraction covering up the current administration's inability to run the national economy.

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