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French press review 20 June 2014

A weakening rail strike and revelations about the UMP/Bygmalion campaign-funding scandal dominate comments in Friday’s French press.

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Le Figaro reports that Jérome Lavrilleux, who coheads the events-PR company which allegedly falsified Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2012 reelection campaign bills, has named three cronies of the former president in a submission made to investigative judges.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

The trio are Guillaume Lambert, Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign chief of staff, Eric Cesari, one-time director-general of the right-wing UMP party, and Franck Attal, who was in charge of special events. While there is continuing speculation about what Sarkozy knew about the 17-million-euro alleged scam, Lavrilleux insists that neither the ex-president nor Jean-Francois Copé, who has stood down as UMP chief because of the scandal, knew about their work, according to Le Figaro.

France’s longest rail strike in years, which had threatened to hit the vibrant tourist industry right at the peak of the holiday season, is petering out, according to Libération.

The left-leaning newspaper reports that after a nine-day action, involving work stoppages and the blocking of tracks, the railworkers have ran out of steam.

The strike was sparked by a reform aimed at tackling the rail sector's soaring debt, which stands at more than 40 billion euros and is set to almost double by 2025 if nothing changes, according to the government. The embattled Socialist government, confident of support from disgruntled rail users, has refused to bow to the rail unions’ demands for job safeguards.

The government has gone ahead by tabling in parliament its plans to cut costs by uniting the SNCF train operator and RFF track network and to open up parts of the service to competition. Libé says the flop of the strike underscores the internal crisis rocking the CGT union, whose leadership was outflanked by its rank and file.

L’Humanité points out that Communist Party MPs’ victory in inserting a clause reinforcing the status of the SNCF as the sole rail employer is ample reason for consolation.

Le Figaro leads with French doctors up in arms against the draft health reform bill tabled in parliament on Thursday by Health Minister Marisol Touraine.

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The package seeks a generalisation of the “third party” payer mechanism, which allows insurance companies to effect the direct payment of medical expenses incurred by policy-holders. But medics reportedly fear new administrative bottlenecks for practitioners, an explosion of health expenditure as the government remains vague about the cost of the reform.

Le Figaro says the management of medical records is certain to become a monster capable of undermining the sacrosanct French principle of universal access to health for all.

La Croix believes Madame Touraine is determined to see her reform through as early as 2017. According to the paper she rejects the suggestion by opposition MPs that French citizens are irresponsible and that the third-party payer scheme will impact negatively on treatment. The Catholic daily notes that Touraine had dropped plans to impose a colour-code on the nutritional value of foods as she earlier intended.

Dossier: War in Mali

The dangerous situation in Mali draws a comment from Libération, in the wake of last month’s rout of the army by Tuareg rebels in the northern region of Gao. Libé dispatched a correspondent to the northern provincial capital Kidal where residents recall fierce battles similar to the 2012 civil war and Malian soldiers fleeing in droves after abandoning their uniforms. For the paper the French Serval operation is caught in a war against a shadow enemy. Residents of Kidal told the paper they feel abandoned by Bamako while those in Gao await the return of peace and a semblance of state authority.

L’Equipe gives its forecast for France’s football World Cup decider against Switzerland in Brazil Friday night.

The clash with the Swiss is the Blues’ second game in the tournament and leaves no one indifferent, write the sports daily. It names midfield maestro Paul Pogba and strikers Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezman as the men to watch as Team France goes for a second consecutive victory that will qualify them for the eighth finals of the tournament.
 

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