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French press review 02 ctober 2014

France's Catholic daily looks back on a long career. The 2015 budget gets a mixed reception. Hong Kong's protests are analysed. And the French right's would-be presidential candidates square up for a long battle.

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Hats off this morning to Catholic paper La Croix, which publishes its 40,000th edition.

The daily newspaper's editorial accepts that its long history has had a few dark passages - the editorial line during the Dreyfus Affair, for example, was rabidly anti-Semitic - but insists on looking towards the future and a continuation of its role in objectively analysing what's going on in the world.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

The editorial looks ahead to the 50,000th, even the 100,000th editions, perhaps refusing to accept the way in which the world of newspaper publishing has already changed. La Croix is currently ranked seventh in the sales of French daily papers with 94,000 copies, a small decrease on last year's figure. To put that figure in perspective, conservative Le Figaro tops the rankings with sales of 318,000 copies every day.

La Croix takes a typically positive view of yesterday's budget in its main story. Twenty-one billion euros will have to be saved, assuming that growth surges to the astronomic level of one per cent, a level considered "optimistic" by the public finance watchdog and "virtually impossible" by most analysts. The French economy is currently hardly growing at all but at least it appears to have stopped experiencing what economists infuriatingly call "negative growth".

State spending, social security and grants to local government are the areas taking the biggest cuts.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Le Monde looks at how those cuts in public expenditure are going to be shared out between the various ministries: defence takes a big hit and could lose another 7,500 jobs in the course of next year. The employment ministry also faces severe cuts. Education is one of the few areas where additional spending is proposed, a 2.5 per cent increase in the schools budget allowing for the creation of over 9,000 new jobs.

Communist L'Humanité is having none of it. "Budget cuts kill France" is its headline summary of a plan which adheres to the despised policy of austerity for all.

Left-leaning Libération, which has seen its sales decline by 11 per cent over the past 12 months, gives pride of place to "The Hong Kong Spring".

For the past two weeks student protesters in the former British colony have been calling for more democracy. "Protest" and "democracy" are not polite expressions in the Chinese capital. The communist authorities have, for the moment, limited their reaction to the diplomatic equivalent of tut-tutting, but no one will forget what they did to a similar outpouring of popular discontent in Beijing itself in 1989.

The crucial difference between Tiananmen Square and Hong Kong is that the latter is the centre of the Asian financial machine and the third most important stock exchange on the planet. The communists have long tolerated this nest of vile capitalism because it's good value for money. But being a political hotbed could well prove dangerous for the territory.

The politburo is not against allowing additional liberties to a Hong Kong population which is already anomalous when viewed from Beijing. But what is crucial is that increased democracy should continue to elect Hong Kong leaders who know their place and respect policy as sent down from head office.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is turning out to be a dangerous flop as a modernist reformer, says Libération. For the moment, thanks to rigorous censorship, there's little danger of a spread of seditious ideas to the mainland. But with Taiwan now supporting the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, Xi may soon be forced to do something to reassert his control. And that could be rough.

Interactive map of France

Speaking of tough guys, Le Figaro gives the front page honours to François Fillon, Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy, the three heavyweights in the struggle to take control of the conservative UMP party.

Yesterday Fillon unveiled his five promises to get the nation back on its financial feet.

Alain Juppé will be on national television later today, giving his vision of the future. Juppé's campaingn has been boosted by the news that he has the support of former president Jacques Chirac, the man who nearly landed Juppé in jail when he worked at the Paris town hall.

Sarkozy has already been on national TV and will outline his ideas for France in an interview to be published tomorrow in Le Figaro's weekly magazine. Sarko has the support of Bernadette Chirac.

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