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French press review 10 February 2014

French President François Hollande begins a three-day visit to the US, Swiss vote on immigration quotas and promising signs of economic recovery worldwide, are all topics in today's French papers.

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The French president is off this morning for a three-day official visit to the United States, "the home of success" as right-wing Le Figaro puts it. It's a trip which should allow the French leader to guage the full extent of the American economic take-off, says Le Figaro, warning that this should be considered as a study trip by François Hollande, not some false boost to his plumeting popularity.

The fact is, groans Le Figaro, that this is a meeting of two lame ducks: the US president is paralysed by an unco-operative Congress, the French leader is attempting a radical new deal with industry in an effort to save the country from bankruptcy. But at least the lame duck called Barack has an economy that is, once again, firing on all cylinders.

Lame duck French Frank is still waiting to see if his swerve to social democracy (a concept which will encourage most Americans to reach for their handguns) will have any other effect than scaring the local rank and file.

François Hollande will visit California's Silicon Valley on Wednesday. He should be warned, says Le Figaro, that the folks who run the world-dominating computer companies regard France, with its 75 per cent income tax for top earners, as just one notch below the Stalinist dictatorship in North Korea.

The majority of current US Congresspersons don't like socialists, democratic or otherwise, and won't be addressed by the French leader, considering him even further out along the dangerous branch to which their own president is clinging. And that's a pity, says Le Figaro, since forcing Frank to explain himself to the Americans might have helped the French to understand him better.

Le Figaro also looks at Sunday's Swiss decision, by a very small majority, to limit immigration by imposing quotas. The right-wing paper says the vote reflects a nation polarised between a liberal, French-speaking population in the western cities, and a closed, reactionary electorate in eastern German-speaking rural areas.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

And there's the question of where this result leaves Switzerland's complex relationship with the European Community. But Le Figaro says we don't have to get too excited about the result, largely symbolic, since the new quotas will be applied "in line with the needs of the Swiss economy," a sufficiently vague formulation to allow parliament room for manoeuvre.

Catholic La Croix says there are promising signs of real economic recovery worldwide. Western stock exchanges are back in the best of health, indicating investor confidence and the success of government efforts to refloat national economies.

The surge in the price of raw materials has slowed down, thanks mainly to a re-centring of the Chinese economy. And the increasing exploitation of shale gas is changing the world's energy map, limiting the political clout of the middle-eastern oil producers and giving the United States an unprecedented freedom in geopolitical terms.

Here in France, the Industry Minister wants a devaluation of the euro. He says knocking 10 per cent off the value of the common currency would increase growth dramatically and create 150,000 jobs.

To support his argument for devaluation, the Minister points to the recent gains by the euro against both the dollar and the yen. The value of Europe's money increased by 10 per cent against the dollar in 2012-13, and by 40 per cent against the yen.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

But the US economy grew by 3 per cent at the same time, and Japan's growth rate was nearly 2.5 per cent. The euro zone was, at the same time, contracting by 0.2 of a per cent. And of course, the strong euro is penalising the export business, motor of the long-anticipated economic turnaround.

How it will all work in practice is anybody's guess, since the European Central Bank is currently giving money away and can't reduce interest rates any further without becoming a registered charity.

Minister Montebourg says it's time to make the euro a political question by proposing alternatives to the orthodoxy inefficiently championed by Brussels. Devaluation has got to be a crucial element in the forthcoming European election campaign, says the Minister.

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