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French press review 01 October 2014

This morning's front pages are not exactly joyous but Le Figaro gets the gloom and doom prize for its headline in reaction to the news that the French national debt has, for the first time in history, soared blithely past the two-trillion-euro mark.

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"France sinks without trace," is the conservative paper's view of a situation in which the total amount France owes will soon exceed the total amount the country can produce. It's alarming but not unprecedented. The US federal debt dwarfs the French figure and is already more than 100 per cent of GDP.

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But that's not the sort of detail to stop the lads at right-wing Le Figaro when there's a chance to flay the struggling Socialists.

The conservative daily's editorial is headlined "Himalayan!" an effort to give some physical shape to otherwise abstract figures.

The editorial is, let it be said, not simply a biased political diatribe. Le Figaro is forced to admit that the current situation was not all caused, single-handedly, by the little-loved François Hollande and his various government teams. It's been a collaborative effort, involving borrowings agreed by governments of the left and right over the past four decades.

Le Figaro calculates that each French citizen, with a theoretical share of the national debt at 30,000 euros per head, now spends more on paying the interest on state borrowing than on the education of his or her children.

The country is now at the mercy of its creditors, a situation which could rapidly become uncomfortable if interest rates end their long, slow decline.

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Worse, says Le Figaro, the budget currently being debated at the National Assembly will do nothing but add a further 90 billion euros to the existing mountain.

Left-leaning Libération is also having a go at the government, saying the Socialists have let a chance slip to reform the French income tax system. Given that they have neither the money nor the political support, that's probably not too surprising.

Libération is not convinced that the key taxation proposal - the increase from 6,000 to 10,000 euros per year of the minimum income subject to income tax - is really going to help the least well-off. It is certainly going to make life even more difficult for the squeezed middle class, a social group beginning to make noises like Minnie Mouse on helium.

The central problem, according to Libé, is Value Added Tax, paid at the same unjustly high level whether the buyer is rich or poor, income-tax-payer or not.

Communist L'Humanité looks at life on a retirement pension in austerity-era France. The horizon is dark. There were demonstrations across the country yesterday by retirees fed up with frozen pension levels and what L'Humanité calls "the baton-charge of fiscal fury" that continues to reduce purchasing power.

If you're not interested in economics, Le Monde's front page may have something for you – it is devoted to war.

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The centrist paper asks what the chances are that the current allied air offensive against the Islamic State (IS) armed group will actually change the balance of force at ground level in Syria and Iraq. Le Monde is convinced that they won’t because Kurdish fighters against IS say the allies are hitting the wrong targets and there's no sign that IS fighters in Syria have been forced to withdraw from key battles around Kobane or Aleppo.

Dominic de Villepin is also sure this war can not be won.

De Villepin, who as French foreign minister opposed George Bush's war in Iraq in 2003 the UN General Assembly, says the former US president’s call for a global war against terrorism has found its echo in the IS ambition to establish a global caliphate - two ideologies, two visions based on violence and the use of images, two dangerous dead-ends.

What we need, says de Villepin, is a UN-mandated international ground force, prepared to get its hands dirty and take losses. Otherwise we will continue to descend the endless spiral of permanent war.
 

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