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French press review 08 October 2014

The French budget bust continues to make front-page news as a confrontation with the European Commission appears to be on the cards. And Nicolas Sarkozy faces yet more corruption accusations.


The main story in right-wing paper Le Figaro says President François Hollande is squeezed between the demands of the moneymen in Brussels and the economic rebels in his own Socialist majority.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The conservative daily's editorial says the president's policy of ignoring problems until they go away simply will not work in this case. There's a gap of at least eight billion euros in the French budget for next year and Brussels is not going to be happy. Hollande has, according to Le Figaro, always believed that economic growth would suddenly break out and save him. It's not going to.

Now, his double speak - assuring Europe that France is doing all it can to get the books balanced, while telling the left wing of his own party that he's not following an austerity policy - has left the president with a major credibility problem. Nobody believes a word he says, on any subject, Le Figaro judges.

It believes the president has no choice but to ignore the dissenters in his own camp and respect the promises made to Europe. But the right-wing paper offers no advice on where the eight billion extra sponduliks might come from.

The basic problem is that all countries in the eurozone are supposed to keep their budget deficit down to three per cent of what the nation produces. Otherwise the stability pact which keeps the euro functioning gets the wobbles. France hasn't managed to meet that engagement for a while now. Paris promised to have it all sorted by the end of next year and, when that became clearly impossible, said it'd all be hunky-dory by the end of 2017.

Centrist Le Monde says there are three ways the arm wrestle with Brussels can play this.

The commission can either turn another blind eye, nominate the French finance minister for a fiction prize and let things keep going down the high road to economic hell.

Or the bureaucrats can get tough and insist that France redoes its sums to come up with a better budget. Brussels does have the power to force Paris to reconsider the figures.

The problem is that Finance Minister Michel Sapin has already repeatedly said that there's no room for any additional spending cuts and no room for increasing taxation, this side of another revolution.

That would mean that the European Commission could fine France the equivalent of 0.2 of a per cent of Gross National Product - about four billion euros. The commission has never yet fined a member government but, warns Le Monde, exasperation with French failures and broken promises has reached such a level that this could be the first time.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Finally, and this is the most likely outcome, France will make a new series of promises, Brussels will give a further extension and life will go on as before, except for the chaps on the right who will go apoplectic in a frenzy of condemnation of left-wing fuzziness.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy says he believes there's a concerted attempt by some judges and most media to cook his political ass. He may be right.

The poor man has barely put a foot back on the political stage and he's coming down with writs, convocations and accusations. Sarkozy's judicial bacstory is no flower garden but the latest round of suggestions include allegations that he might, for example, have known that the PR firm Bygmalion was beingused to launder funds for his last election campaign or that he might have been aware that there were certain irregularities underpinning a French deal to sell helicopters to Kazakhstan in 2010.

Dossier - The Bettencourt scandal

Investigators are looking at the payment of back-handers on that sale.

Le Monde says there's a separate possibility that then-president Sarkozy might have put pressure on the Belgian senate to soften the legal fate of a Kazakh businessman held in Belgium, an intervention that helped to clinch the helicopter deal.

The trouble with all these cases is that Sarko is damned if he did and damned if he didn't. The accusations all concern hugely complicated situations, so that it's hard to see any clear verdict ever emerge on individual guilt, especially when the individual is a former French president.

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