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French press review 2 December 2014


Le Monde's main headline reads "Le Pen, Sarkozy, Hollande: the 2017 presidential race is under way".

What is interesting there, I suppose, is the order in which the centrist paper lists the contenders: first, the leader of the far right Front National, then the conservative former president, re-elected last weekend to the top job in the mainstream right-wing UMP party, finally the little loved incumbent.

Conservative daily Le Figaro gives pride of place to a plan which could do away with numerical grading in French schools. It sounds a bit like six of one and a half a dozen of the other, because the group that looks at the way school programs are organised and rated wants to replace the current scale of marks from one to twenty with a new scale involving four or maybe six levels.

So, instead of sending the dunces home with a four out of twenty, they'll in future be told they have an insufficient mastery of the subject in question. The basic idea is to get away from using marks to punish weaker kids, towards a system which encourages improvement.

Teachers' organisations are divided in their reactions but former education minister, Luc Ferry, has no doubt at all, describing the proposal as "stupefyingly daft," adding that you don't cure a fever by breaking the thermometre.

Under the headline "Lima climate conference polluted by industry," communist L'Humanité looks at the way in which lobbying is being used by the worst offenders. According to the communist daily, the style has changed from the old-style simple support for climate sceptics, to the current promotion by the petrol and coal industries and their big clients of an image of themselves as major actors in the fight against global warming and the general collapse of the ecosphere.

They are active at the climate conference currently taking place in Lima, Peru, and their message is simple: "We're the good guys, we want to save the planet. Just help us to set up the market structures we need to multiply our profits and we'll worry about all the rest".

The question for L'Humanité is, which comes first, the environment, or the economic model? The fossil fuel merchants want to ensure that they don't get sidelined by any future energy revolution.

Since there is currently a complete absence of any political project to direct the transformation of the energy sector, the big names see themselves as well placed to be the heroes of the fight against fossil fuel, but they will, of course, run that transition according to their own basic principle of maximising profits.

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And by cutting back on spending on the environment, crisis-hit national governments are simply playing into the greedy clutches of the oil producers and coal burners.

Left-leaning Libération looks at the alleged racism of some antiracists. The debate has been reignighted by an installation called "Exhibit B" by the white South African, Brett Bailey.

Baily's controversial work involves 12 settings in which real black people pose, unmoving and silent, in situations which recall the worse excesses of colonial oppression and apartheid. Libé's cover features a black woman in a cage, with a sign announcing that "the blacks have been fed". Brett Bailey says he is motivated by a desire to open up the dark corners of the collective consciousness, with its false images of "the other". His opponents say Bailey is using the excuse of art to put black people back in the very situation of silent submission against which Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King led the struggle.

Brett Bailey's exhibition was withdrawn from a London venue earlier this year following pressure from rights groups; the same 12 settings arrive here in Paris next weekend, and there have already been protests. We have probably not heard the last of Brett Bailey, nor of "Exhibit B".

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