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French press review 24 December 2014

The Pope and his demand for a reform of the Catholic church,  an almost non existent economic growth in France... Today's French newspapers aren't really getting into the Christmas spirit. Fortunately The Guardian cheers us up with a quite peculiar story about a seal found stranded in a field.

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I can't resist a story from the front page of The Guardian where it is reported that a grey seal was found stranded yesterday in a field 20 miles from the sea.

This all happened yesterday near Liverpool in a place called Newton-le-Willows. The beast was discovered by a dog walker who alerted the police and animal rescue services. After a struggle involving a piece of mackerel, the distressed seal was finally encouraged into a trailer and brought to a wildlife centre.

One local described him as a "great big sea lion" while another said he was not very friendly.

How the creature managed to get into the field remains a mystery. The nearest seal colony is 50 miles away.

In the French papers, Le Monde gives pride of place to the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church, currently much in the news for his recent blast to the cardinals condemning various ills which God's earthly representative feels are undermining the meaning and the message of catholic christianity.

Pope Francis says the government of the church is suffering among other things from spiritual Alzheimer's, ravaged by jealousy and place-seeking and something called "existential schitzophrenia". The speech is seen as part of the pope's determination, voiced shortly after his election in April 2013, to reform the way the organisation he heads is governed and administered.

Speaking of governments and administrations, conservative daily Le Figaro devotes prime front-page space to the news that at 2,032 billion euros, the French national debt currently amounts to 95 per cent of what the country can produce and is showing no signs of disappearing any day soon.

Economic growth over the third quarter is officially a modest point-three of a per cent and some economists reckon that the final three months of 2014 are going to show a growth rate close to zero. Industrial investment has completely stagnated and the prime minister has warned that the latest unemployment figures won't be good either.

The Figaro editorial says President Hollande continues to try to obscure disaster by promises of a better tomorrow . . . more jobs, less tax, more growth are among the big presidential predictions which have recently shattered on the rocks of economic reality. And that reality is very harsh: unemployment rising steadily for 30 consecutive months, taxation at a level never before attained, zero growth, the national debt off the dial.

France, continues Le Figaro, has to borrow to meet current expenses, to pay civil servants, to pay the interest on the existing debt. National sovereignty has thus been sold into the hands of the international lenders.

Tax can be increased but that will make people even more angry and disheartened. The economy may start growing again but not because the president demands it. About the only real possibility is to cut public spending but that has been promised so many times without effect that no one is fooled any more.

Left-leaning Libération decides to get into the festive spirit by suggesting that the French national glass is half full rather than half empty. It's a tentative gesture as evidenced by the opening sentence of the paper's editorial which I quote: "It's the shadow of the start of a beginning of a sketch of a possible sign of life . . ." They're talking about economic growth. And trying to be positive.

Two Nobel prizes, a major contribution to the success of the space mission to the commet Tchouri, the relative success of foreign peacekeeping missions . . . France has many reasons to be proud. Even the economic data looks less bleak in perspective! Since 2008 French economic growth has been the third best in Europe after Germany and Belgium total national indebtedness is among the continent's lowest, wealth production is among the highest. So there are reasons for hope.

Having started with a seal, I will end with an orang-outan by the name of Sandra. She's been living behind bars in Buenos Aires' zoo for the past 20 years. Recently an Argentinian judge decided that she had been illegally deprived of her liberty. She is now technically free though animal experts are sure that she could not survive in the wild. Lawyers are now trying to decide if Sandra can take an action against the zoo and claim damages for her 20-year imprisonment.

La Fontaine, the French author of moral tales involving animals, would surely have been able to do something with Sandra. To say nothing of the seal.

 

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