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French press review 19 February 2014

Dongfeng buys into Peugeot. Is this good news for France? Who will be in control? What will happen to French jobs? Will Hollande's Responsibility Pact fail?


Why would a Chinese car-maker, well on the way to joining the world's top 10 constructors, want to invest in a loss-making French operation that can't give cars away?

 Four of this morning's French dailies ask, more or less, that question, proposing a variety of answers.

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The facts are clear enough: net losses last year at PSA Peugeot-Citroën amounted to 2.3 billion euros, a dramatic improvement on the 5.0 billion euros lost in 2012. Yesterday, the Chinese Dongfeng group paid 800 million euros to join the French state and the Peugeot family on an equal footing, with each of the three partners now owning 14 per cent of what is Europe's second largest vehicle maker.

The rest of the shares float on the stock exchange, where they could, yesterday, be bought for a fraction of their price three years ago.

Business daily Les Echos says this forced marriage may work out in the interests of all parties - Peugeot gains an expanded and privileged place in the booming Asian car market. Dongfeng gains access to the industrial secrets jealously guarded by the French company, notably in the domain of the electric car; the state can point to a job-saving investment in a crucial industrial sector. But how long will the honeymoon last?

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Communist L'Humanité asks whether the state is going to be a driver or a passenger under the new dispensation.

What will happen to French jobs in the group? How will the state justify a partnership with a company which shows little respect for workers' rights? Will the Chinese simply run off with the patents for the electric motor and set up as unbeatable opponents?

It is interesting to note that last year Dongfeng's turnover was one-quarter that of Peugeot, the company employed half as many workers and still managed to sell 100,000 more cars than the French operation.

Catholic La Croix says there are risks and opportunities attached to the new deal, suggesting a parallel with the fear of Japanese industrial expansion at the end of the 1980s.

The Asian monster did not swallow Europe then, and probably won't now, says La Croix. The benefits of partnership far outweigh the dangers posed by open hostility, especially when the battlefield is the Chinese motor market.

Right-wing Le Figaro is delighted to suggest that poor old François Hollande's deal with the employers - lower social charges in exchange for more jobs - is going to go down in flames.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Says Figaro, the unions are suspicious, the left wing of the Socialist Party is openly critical and the bosses are refusing to give any guarantees.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the grumpy little git who runs the hard left, says he's thinking of making the war against the pact with the employers the major plank of his campaign for the European elections later this year. Always assuming the pact hasn't died of natural causes or been assassinated before then.

Libération gives pride of place to yesterday's acceptance by the French parliament of the wrong done to the 1,615 orphan children who were uprooted from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion in the 1960s and 70s, and forcibly settled in underpopulated parts of France.

There's no question of any compensation, despite the fact that all of the children were victims of a state crime, that many were treated like slaves by the host families they were given to and many were the victims of other forms of abuse. The statute of limitations means that it is now too late to launch legal action based on yesterday's admission of moral responsibility.

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