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French press review 16 May 2014

French protectionist laws,a  Europhobic wave sweeping through the EU and the cold bath of France’s zero growth dominate comments in French press today.

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The French statistics agency Insee stated on Thursday that consumer spending, which is usually a main driver of growth in the French economy, shrank by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

Le Figaro wasted no time in hitting out at President François Hollande. According to the right-wing newspaper, all of France’s economic indicators have turned red and the government’s forecast of one per cent growth rate for 2014 is far from being guaranteed.

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Le Monde admits that France has indeed ground to a halt but it seeks solace in the fact that there was a 0.2 per cent rise in the production of goods and services. It underlines that the latest data however came as a huge disappointment for the Socialist government, especially against the background of a U-turn on its policy to cut a budget deficit and boost business.

For Le Monde, French feelings of frustration will not be consoled by the fact that Germany’s growth pace doubled from 0.4 per cent in the previous quarter to 0.8 per cent over the same period.

The two leading newspapers react to moves by the French government to thwart foreign takeovers of "strategic" industrial groups.

Le Figaro reports that under the new decree, signed by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a 2005 law providing government vetting of investments by foreign groups is extended to cover key sectors such as energy, water, transport, health and telecoms.

Le Figaro believes the new rules set to come into effect this Friday are a turn of the screw against attempts by US General Electric or Germany's Siemens to take over the energy arm of the French industrial giant Alstom, which makes Eurostar trains.

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In a long interview with Le Monde, Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg puts up a strong defence of the new rules, calling them the end of the laissez-faire dispensation. Montebourg claims that France needed a national deterrent of its own against predators since Brussels does not protect the commercial assets of European countries.

Libération sounds alarm bells about the disturbing rise of populism in Europe as  28 EU members go to the polls next week. It’s an anti-European tidal wave blowing from Finland to France and from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, fanned by nationalist political parties with a whiff of racism, it says.

According to Libé, the Europhobic movements all question the legitimacy of Brussels to manage the affairs of their nations and intend to undermine it.

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