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French press review 4 November 2014

American president, Barack Obama, is the man on all this morning's front pages. And he could probably do without it. You will know that today, Americans vote in mid-term elections that could well lead to a Republican takeover of the US Senate. That would give the opposition party control of both houses of Congress.

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Obama's name will not be on any ballot paper. He is, strictly speaking, not involved in this ritual renewal of the entire American lower house, and one-third of the seats in the Senate. In fact, this mid-term vote is all about the president, at a record low in the popularity ratings, having disappointed the poor and confirmed the worst suspicions of the rural conservatives who didn't like the black, urban, liberal leader very much in the first place.

Libération says Obama is the target, not just of the Republicans but of disgruntled factions within his own Democrat group. A defeat will leave Obama with no political room to manoeuvre until the end of his second term in 2016, and could well be the start of a groundswell which will see the Republicans return to the White House in the next presidential poll..

How US elections work

Libé does, of course, point out that history is against the American conservatives. Presidents have been heavily sanctioned by mid-term elections in the past . . . think of Ronnie Reagan or Bill Clinton . . . but their parties still managed to win the subsequent presidential struggle. So all is not lost for the Democrats, even if they lose today.

Catholic La Croix says Obama is worn out. The catholic daily notes that a Republican majority in both houses would allow the so-called opposition to review all federal legislation passed during the last six years. Crucial social and environmental decisions could thus be reversed.

La Croix says Obama's predicament is difficult to understand from a European point of view. Even with his record unpopularity, 40 per cent of America voters still approve of Obama as president. What would French leader François Hollande not do to be only that unpopular! And the US economy is doing quite nicely, thank you, with growth up and unemployment down.

Remember as well that participation in US mid-term elections is traditionally low. Fewer that 30 per cent of voters are likely to turn out today, no matter how unhappy they are with the current situation.

Apart from the bad news for Barack, the front pages feature fraud, and toxic fumes emanating from the French Green Party.

The financial fraud concerns the possibility that the HSBC bank in or about 2006 encouraged its staff to approach well-to-do French clients with a view to encouraging said clients to invest some of their well-to-do in fictitious offshore companies, with a further view to robbing the French tax authorities.

The alleged scheme seems to have worked very well, with no fewer than five billion euros being whisked from under the dripping noses of the taxmen, and stashed safely in the Virgin Islands or Panama.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The problem is that no bank can legally accept money from a client, knowing that the client is attempting to avoid taxation. The simple name for that is fraud. And if, as appears to be the case here, there are a number of people involved, it's called organised fraud, and is serious shit.

The Swiss banking authorities don't like the sound of skeletons rattling in the fiscal closet, and have asked the French investigators to move the whole inquiry to ministerial level. The Swiss say the whole case is a simple misunderstanding. The two French judges looking into the affair seem to understand very well. They've told the Swiss to sit on a cheese.

The gas-producing Greens are in the news because:

  • communist L'Humanité thinks the so-called "energy transition" has gone off the rails, blaming the lack of a coherent transport policy for much of the trouble;

and

  • conservative Le Figaro says Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal is ready to give in on the dispute over the irrigation dam at Sievens, ostensibly to avoid further widening the gap with former government allies in the Green Party. For Le Figaro, this is just another lamentable example of the government giving in to violent pressure groups.
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