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French press review 23 March 2015

Le Monde was worried that the voters might not show up for Sunday's first round in the departmental elections. The centrist paper points out that voter enthusiasm for these local elections has never been great . . . less than one third of registered electors bothered to cast a vote in the second round in 2004.


Le Monde warned that the electorate is confused and no longer convinced that politics is the answer. In the only major surprise to emerge from Sunday's election, it looks as if as many as 51 per cent of voters actually exercised their rights on Sunday, a huge increase for this election, easily beating the previous best turn-out, a paltry 45 per cent, back in 1998.

Otherwise, it was business as usual.

As right-wing paper Le Figaro is happy to summarise, the conservative UMP is in the driving seat, the extremist National Front collected one quarter of all votes cast, and the socialists got another hiding.

Le Figaro's editorial sees the emergence of a tri-partite political structure in France: two large blocs to the left and the right, both more-or-less internally divided, and the extremists of Marine Le Pen, in a minority, but solidly united.

The left-wing paper, Libération, divides up its front page to accommodate the same political reality. Sarkozy's UMP speaks for one France, Le Pen's National Front to a different nation, with the socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, left picking up the crumbs. In fairness, the socialists did better than most people, even the socialists themselves, had been predicting.

There are, of course, other things happening in the world.

Later on Monday, the new Greek prime minister will be meeting the old German Chancellor to talk about debts and other annoyances. The Greek message is not a reassuring one: despite the billions of euros poured into the Greek economy by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Greece is showing no signs of recovery. Sixty per cent of Greek youth are unemployed and poverty is a real problem for an ever-increasing proportion of the population. It's hard to see what Tsipras and Merkel will have to talk about. Even harder to see any grounds for agreement.

Libération looks at the retreat of American troops from Yemen, seeing their evacuation as proof of the failure of the Obama administration's attempts to defeat Islamic fundamentalist groups in the region. The real danger, according to the left-wing paper, is that Islamic State will take advantage of the general atmosphere of chaos to wrest the military advantage form Al-Qaeda, exactly as they have done in Syria and Iraq.

Libé also reports that two French climbers, rescued last week by a helicopter team from the north face of Mont-Blanc, now face legal action for what the paper calls "abusing the rescue services". The lads were taken to hospital having told the authorities they were freezing to death. The doctors found them to be in perfect health and let them go after just half an hour. So far, so good. Anyone can be forgiven for having an exaggerated view of the danger they face, especially at night, in the winter, and at highy altitude.

But, no sooner were they out of the hospital, than the two climbers called the mountain rescue team again, with a view to getting the helicopter team to go back and collect their equipment, left behind in the original effort. They now face a visit to court and could end up paying 30,000 euros in fines and doing two years behind bars.

Le Monde's weekend economics supplement carries the surprising news that, despite all the talk of crisis and unemployment, average salaries here in France increased by nearly one and a half per cent last year. Given that inflation has stopped, that means a real increase for employees in the private sector. The problem is that, since salaries have been growing faster that productivity since 2008, French industry is automatically losing its competitive edge.


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