French press review 4 February 2014
The dominant story in the French papers this morning is the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, due to open later today here in Paris.
Two decades ago, Simbikangwa was the head of the Rwandan secret service. He is accused of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity for his alleged part in the murder of Tutsis by some of Rwanda's Hutu population in the terrible spring of 1994.
Libération's headline suggest that France is on trial, since the case is obviously going to stir-up the debate about French failures to intervene at the start of the genocide. Libé asks why it has taken two decades to organise the first French trial of a genocide suspect, given that Belgium, Norway and Germany have already tried and sentenced dozens of Rwandan war criminals. Libération's editorial ends by saying that justice has no part in the writing of history, but it can certainly throw light into some of the darkest corners.
Catholic La Croix says the delay in organising this trial, and the attendant media and political pressure, won't make the task of the judges an easy one.
Communist L'Humanité says this is a trial for history, blaming a lack of political will in Paris for the long delay. And let's not forget that Rwanda's war crimes did not end with the establishment of Paul Kagamé's Tutsi regime. France has always recognised the fact of the so-called "double genocide," and continues to call for justice for the Hutu victims of the liberating Tutsis who were under the control of Paul Kagamé.
The war crimes unit set up by the French legal authorities two years ago has at least 25 other files on suspected Rwandan war criminals, currently living in France. So this first trial will be watched with great interest, in Paris, Kigali and elsewhere, even if it comes 20 years after the event.
The main story in Le Monde is about French education. In the wake of the international report last December which placed 15-year-olds in French schools in 25th place of the 65 nations surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the centrist paper wonders if the 65 billion euros spent each year on schools in this country is money thrown down the drain.
Among the crucial problems: the fact the French secondary education is local (everyone goes to the establishment closest to his or her home address) means that poor students tend to go to sub-standard schools, and the best teachers are, understandably, attracted to the richer districts. The poor kids know that their future is on the dole queue, so they are not easily motivated. The exams are outmoded and inefficient, especially for youngsters with skills outside the classic curriculum. And French teachers are very poorly trained.
A well-trained workforce is essential in economic terms, warns Le Monde, leaving all questions of personal and social development aside. To compete in the 21st century, French schools must do better.
Both right-wing Le Figaro and popular Aujourd'hui en France give pride of place to the government decision to delay the debate on the controversial family law.
The two papers point to recent protests by right-wing catholic groups to explain this latest climb down. So the law intended to clarify such sensitive questions as medically assisted procreation for lesbian couples, the rights and obligations of mothers who agree to carry someone else's child, and the whole topic of gender has been put on the back burner, along with the eco-tax, as the socialists, once again, give in to popular pressure.
And the front page of business daily Les Echos carries the worrying news that "The motor industry is ravaged by the fever of gigantism".
This is not as painful as it sounds. It just means that the big players in the sector . . . Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen . . . are now selling ten million vehicles each, every year. And size does matter, because the smaller producers are simply being forced out of the market by the savings the big guys make on scale.
Those who think that corruption is something done by foreigners should read the latest report from the European Commission. The 28-member club loses an estimated 120 billion euros every year, with every nation involved to a greater or lesser extent.
The Greeks feel themselves to be the European champions, with 99 per cent of the moussaka munchers saying they believed corruption to be a major problem. The Danes are either more honest or less frank, because only 20 per cent of them think fraud, cheating and bribery reach serious proportions in Denmark.