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French press review 23 February 2015

The spectre of right-wing extremism is rattling the bars on this morning's front pages.

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There are going to be departmental elections here in France in four weeks. Catholic paper La Croix says the mainstream parties have lost all sense of direction and coherence as they strive to resist the rise and rise of Marine Le Pen and her populist mix of anti-European xenophobia and false promises.

The situation is certainly serious.

Conservative paper Le Figaro publishes an opinion poll showing 30 per cent of French voters supporting the Front National, ahead of the 28 per cent who intend to vote UMP, with barely one-fifth saying they'll support the ruling socialists.

Catholic La Croix says the mainstream parties are caught between a moral and a political reaction: they can criticise the extremists or they can choose to listen to the message being sent by voters who feel that the Front National is the party most in tune with their needs and fears.

Says the catholic daily, the short-term answers will be worked out on the ground in each constituency, but there is a longer perspective which will oblige the so-called mainstream parties to re-examine what they stand for and how they are organised.

La Croix looks at the parallel situation in Denmark where the extremist Danish People's Party accounts for about 20 per cent of voting intentions. The traditional right needs the support of those voters, but has to choose between alienating its own conservative electorate or losing a bloc which saw the Danish People's Party top the poll in the 2014 European elections.

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Le Figaro's editorial is headlined "The rising tide," and it wonders when the nation's "respectable" politicians are going to realise that the Front National is now the first political party in France, and is not going to crawl back into the slime any day soon.

Le Figaro says we can expect nothing good from the current socialist administration, riven by division and unwilling to face up to the new economic realities.

In contrast, the conservative have everything to gain, simply by living up to their name and insisting on their traditional values. Le Figaro says the right needs to get over three decades of fear and fumbling on questions which are already a clear part of the UMP's core vision. The party needs to have the courage to stand up for a reform of the French social system, for real control of public spending, for a national education worthy of the name, for a coherent immigration policy and for a reassessment of France's European obligations.

If the UMP won't, or can't, manage to do that, says Le Figaro, the Front National will be only too happy to take up the challenge.

The main story in communist L'Humanité is worried that the bosses and the government are trying to cut back on workers' rights.

Later this week, the Prime Minister is due to relaunch the social dialogue between management and the masses, which trailed into deathly silence in January.

L'Humanité thinks the proposal to streamline the way work is organised... with at least three consultative bodies ensuring that the pace of change is slow or nil... is a regressive move intended to wrest seven decades of social progress out of the hands of the workers. They may be right. Manuel Valls is probably going to agree with the employers. Expect strike action.

Libération worries that French schools are being left behind in the race to the brave numeric future. The government is anxious to ensure that our children are correctly equipped to live in the cyberworld of tomorrow, but is none too sure how to go about it.

Libé points out that computers have existed for the past 70 years and that the vast majority of last year's French school-leavers were born the same year as Amazon.

The crucial debate seems to be between those who advocate the teaching of computer coding as a language, and those who want schools to foster a more critical approach to a tool with as many potential dangers as advantages.

Already, the relationship between teacher and student has been changed by the computer. New energies have obviously been released. It's up to those who run our schools to ensure the correct chanelling of those energies, which will power tomorrow's economy.

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