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French press review 9 February 2015

All eyes this morning are on the web site of the French centrist daily, Le Monde. Within the last few hours, Le Monde has started publishing the details of its sift through the names of French clients of the Swiss branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation - HSBC.

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"Remarkable professional diversity," is one striking phrase used by Le Monde to categorise these offshore savers. There are actors, musicians, footballers, artists, business people and even, heaven forbid, a couple of criminals on the list of those who may have been keeping their readies in Switzerland in order to keep them out of the hands of the French tax authorities.

Among the household names listed is that of the owner of the chich hairdressing chain, Jacques Dessange. He has nothing to fear from these revelations, since Jacques sorted out his then dubious tax situation a few years ago. What Le Monde does reveal, however, is that Jacques ain't actually Jacques. His real name is Hubert.

The family which owns the Margaux wine farm is also mentioned as being in negotiation with the tax authorities. But they can be forgiven, since the current generation seem to have inherited a dodgy situation which was in place long before the chateau came into the hands of its current owner. The sins of the fathers . . .

Communist L'Humanité is slightly out of step with the other French dailies, calling for support for the poor old debt-laden Greeks while most of the paper have moved on, or back, to the diplomatic stand-off between Europe and Russia over the Ukraine.

The communists really do have the bit firmly between their teeth, describing Mario Draghi's threat to shut off the money supply to the Athens banks as a declaration of war against Greece, indeed, against democracy in Europe.

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L'Humanité wants to see us all in the streets, protesting on behalf of the penniless Greeks and against the combined forces of liberalism as represented by bad guys, Draghi and Junker. Thus, even if they are left without a brass centime and have to watch helplessly as their national economy sinks under the waves, at least the Greeks will know that the angry workers of the rest of Europe are standing, figuratively at least, right beside them.

The weekend second round in the bye-election in the eastern French constituency of the Doubs was narrowly won by the Socialist Party, just ahead of the extreme right National Front. Conservative paper Le Figaro says the main lesson from this otherwise insignificant poll is the extenbt to which the mainstream rightwing UMP is divided.

Certain UMP figures, among them Alain Juppé, called on conservative voters to support the socialist candidate, in order to prevent an extreme right victory. But the party leadership under Nicolas Sarkozy refused to give any directive, leaving the choice up to the individual voter. A mark of respect for voter intelligence according to some, a further indication of right-wing ambivalence with regard to extreme right policies and voters, according to others.

Le Monde is not in much doubt. The centrist paper says Sarko was not even around to enforce his dubious non-solution to a dangerous problem, which could have seen the extreme right gain their third seat in the French parliament. The UMP leader was off giving a conference in Abou Dhabi.

The situation in Ukraine has once again become front-page material, as Europe, Moscow and Kiev try to find a common language in which to discuss Russian territorial ambitions and Ukranian integrity. CatholicLa Croixsays there's a real danger that this crisis could degenerate into "total war". The parties are to meet later this week in Minsk.

If there's any unanimity this morning, then it's in the French press's admiration for the South African novelist, André Brink, who died at the weekend. Brink was 79. Described by L'Humanité as a friend of Nelson Mandela, one of the few Afrikans writers to be censored by the apartheid regime, the author of over 40 novels, Brink will be remembered for books like A Dry White Season, a remarkable examination of the way the apartheid era destabilised those who opposed it.

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