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French press review 25 November 2014

The Front National finds the banks taht says "da" in Moscow. Russia's embassy buys Paris a Christmas tree. Diesel-driven cars are pouring filth into the French capital's air. German economists don't like the 35-hour week. Are Western air strikes helping Assad? And what will the Pope say in Strasbourg?

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Russia is much in the news this morning.

In Le Monde we learn that the far-right Front National has, indeed, borrowed a lot of money from a Russian bank. And there's absolutely nothing illegal about that. But Le Monde says it's embarrassing. Given some of the things the Front National stands for, borrowing nine million euros from Russia is hardly going to cause too many blushes among party faithful.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Front National leader Marine Le Pen says the party needs 30 million euros to finance electoral campaigns next year when there will be regional and departmental polls. They asked a lot of banks for help and the Russians were the first to say "da".

Le Pen is scandalised by the fact that no French bank would loan money to her party. But she has no problem with doing business with Moscow, even against the background of conflict in Ukraine. The Front National is broadly pro-Russian these days.

And was the Kremlin involved in the deal? You can bet your last rouble, says Le Monde, that no loans to foreign political groups are ever made without the approval of Grandpa Putin.

By the same token, was the Kremlin's head honcho aware that Russia would provide the Christmas Tree outside Paris's Catholic Notre Dame cathedral? This story is on a separate page in Le Monde.

The tree, a regular feature of the Paris Christmas landscape, has traditionally been financed by the cathedral and local businesses. But the cost has been rising to reach 80,000 euros this year. A situation which forced the priests to go with their begging bowls to Paris's foreign embassies. Russian ambassador Alexander Orlov met them with open cheque book and promised to organise the tree, which has been brought all the way from Russia, the lights and, for all we know, the electricity bill.

Russian media have widely reported the story, with the main public TV channel announcing that "this year, the people of Paris are too poor to buy their own Christmas tree".

So, while Moscow and Paris play out a luke-warm cold war over Ukraine and the Mistral warships, the Catholic Church and the Front National are only too happy to profit from the Kremlin's efforts to win hearts and minds.

Let's just hope ambassador Orlov is also paying for the tree's security, in case Ukrainians, Syrians, Chechens and others with an axe to grind might decide to do to the tree what some other disgruntled people recently did to Paul McCarthy's controversial sculpture in Paris's fancy Place Vendôme.

How bad is air pollution in Paris?

Well, according to the main story in Le Monde, on 13 December last year, the streets of the French capital were as polluted as a 20-square-metre room occupied by eight smokers. And the main culprits are the tiny particles emitted by diesel engines.

A new plan is to be put in place by the city authorities early next year with a view to a total ban on diesel by 2020. Unfortunately, thanks to a series of government subvention schemes intended to encourage motorists to buy diesel-engined vehicles when the fuel was cheap, France currently has the highest proportion - 61 per cent - of diesel cars in the world.

On other front pages . . .

Conservative Le Figaro says the French left is enraged by the continuing debate on the 35-hour working week, disliked by employers, an open question for some Socialists like Manuel Valls and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron but a total no-go area for the unwashed hordes of the rank-and-file French left. The latest blaze has been provoked by a Franco-German study suggesting that current French work practises are too rigid and uncompetitive.

The front page of left-leaning Libération says Western alliance air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria are helping the regime of Bashar al-Assad to defeat more respectable Syrian rebel groups.

According to Libé, those "moderate" rebels defending the second city of Aleppo are losing ground to the gentleman Libération's editorial calls "the tyrant of Damascus," a man whose army has used poison gas and barrel bombs against civilian targets but who is less bad, viewed from Washington, than the mad dogs of the Islamic State armed group.

Click to see the infographic

And then there's Pope Francis, top man in the Roman Catholic Church.

He's on his way to Strasbourg where he will tell the European parliament and the Council of Europe not to lose hope. He's expected to talk about social inequalities and, perhaps, about the family and bioethics. He'll surely remind the European deputies of the need for cohesion and consultation at a continental level.

Come to think of it, those would be fine things at a national level.

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