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French press review 25 December 2014

Why do we celebrate Christmas day on 25 December? Will the far-left become the ruling parties in Greece and in Spain? Will Ukraine finally join NATO? Here's an overview of some issues French newspapers have decided to tackle today.

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Conservative Le Figaro wonders why we celebrate Christmas day on 25 December.

Was that really the date of the birth of Jesus? No one can say for sure. But Le Figaro reminds readers that the Romans, following perhaps thousands of years of pagan tradition, used to party on 25 December the date of the winter solstice under the Julian calendar. Some researchers claim that the French word "Noël" comes from the contraction of two Celtic terms meaning "new" and "light".

It appears that the catholic church in the fourth century saw the wisdom of aligning the official date of the birth of Christ with the depths of winter, the pagan festival of light, and the start of the move to the brighter days of spring.

Centrist Le Monde looks forward to the probable electoral triumphs by the extreme-left in Spain and Greece early next year. While here in France the rise and rise of the far-right National Front is a major cause of concern, the Greek and Spanish neighbours are seeing a resurgence of the far-left mainly driven by voter anger against austerity policies.

Le Monde says victories for Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain would shake the European Union to its foundations.

But we don't have to head for the shelters just yet. While the situation in Spain seems fairly clear, Mario Rajoy's Popular Party is anything but, and the unfortunate socialists have still not recovered from the crash of José Luis Zapatero, the man who leads Podemos.

Pablo Iglesias sounds very like French leader François Hollande when he was campaigning for election two-and-a-half-years ago. Iglesias has said he'll tell German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Spanish workers are no longer prepared to bow to her demands for austerity. Well, Angela was able to put manners in François so she'll probably do the same for Pablo, if he gets his stripes.

As for Greece, it's not even sure that there'll be a general election next year. The boys in Athens still have a couple of days to decide between themselves on a new president . . . Two previous attempts have, it is true, failed . . . but an agreement to elect Stavros Dimas, the governing coalition’s candidate, would mean the threatened February election and the attendant risk of Syriza and its anti-European platform would be pushed into an uncertain future.

Le Monde looks at the latest development in the sad struggle between Russia and Ukraine. You'll know that the authorities in Kiev have just announced that they'll try once again to get into the out-dated cold war club called NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The good news is that Moscow is very pissed off saying that the move would transform Ukraine "into a potential enemy of Russia," which makes you wonder what they think of current relations between the two nations.

This is entirely virtual for the moment since all that has happened is that Kiev has abandoned its policy of neutrality and NATO has said that the door is open. But most advisors seem to feel that Ukraine would be wise not to push too hard. The problem is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is a shadow of its former self and can't afford to get involved in a losing arm wrestle with Vladimir Putin, especially since Ukraine is already so strategically sensitive for the Russians.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

NATO rejected the last Ukrainian application for membership back in 2008 when relations between Kiev and Moscow were quieter than they are today. Kiev might do well to shelve any new application. At least they'd save the postage.

And to finish this little review of things that might happen next year, the internet giant Google has promised to launch the driverless car in California early in 2015.

Crammed with electronic sensors and such like, the vehicle is controlled by a computer linked to Google's satellite mapping service. It will carry two people and travel at a maximum speed of 40 kilometres an hour.
 

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