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French press review 28 April 2015

French unemployment rises past 3.5 million, Nepal waits in the ruins for international aid to arrive, the Greek government softens its negotiating team with its creditors and Libération wonders if we should be obliged to exercise our democratic rights.

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Right-wing paper Le Figaro notes the tragic fact that French unemployment is up again, with more than three-and-a-half million people out of work in March. The conservative daily asks business chiefs what they think can be done to reverse the trend. A new approach to training and apprenticeship, changes to job contracts, an end to the 35-hour working week, easier dismissal procedures are some of the time-worn solutions suggested.

Le Figaro's editorial is suitably grim, saying that the latest statistics simply confirm the failure of French governements over the past three decades to stem the tide of job losses.

The real tragedy is that, with the European economy showing signs of rising from its long sleep and, with the euro and oil prices at bargain basement lows, conditions could hardly be better. The Socialist government has spent nine billion euros to create new jobs for the young. And yet the jobs market remains stagnant.

Instead of treating unemployment as a social problem, let's consider it as an economic one, says Le Figaro. More flexibility is what's required. Take the pressure off the employers by reducing the cost of labour, make sure that people are being trained for jobs that exist, cut the legal red tape and reduce taxation. Simple really, says Le Figaro, but it won't happen under François Hollande, a president who prefers tinkering to attack.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Catholic La Croix gives prominence to the plight of Nepal, as aftershocks continue in the wake of last weekend's earthquake and the international relief effort stalls before the scale of the damage to the country's infrastructure.

Left-leaning Libération wonders if France might not do well to make voting obligatory, as is already the case in Belgium, Greece and Austria. Those registered are obliged to vote in Australian national elections.

Some people see the idea as a way of regenerating the political life of the nation against a background of rising voter indifference; others see yet more official interference with individual rights.

As Libération's editorial underlines, people will become more interested in politics when politics become more interesting. And any attempt to force us to vote would have to imply a profound reform of the current political system. Which is another way of saying that it probably ain't going to happen any time soon.

Greece's outspoken Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has effectively been booted out of the team trying to get Athens off the international debt hook.

After three months of jawing about the fact that Greece will be able to pay its existing debts only if it gets a new loan, the cash-strapped Athens government this month faces nearly two billion euros in wages and pensions bills and a further 750 million euro repayment which is due to the International Monetary Fund. They don't have a proverbial brass farthing.

Dossier: The Strauss-Kahn affair rocks France, IMF

Last week's meeting between the Greeks and the rest of the eurozone finance ministers in Riga was politely described as "acrimonious". So now, in a last desperate attempt to impress the creditors who aren't offering any more credit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has named a new negotiating team, dropping Varoufakis's handpicked representative, Nikos Theocarakis, and replacing him with the deputy minister at foreign affairs. Diplomacy takes over from finance, in other words.

Commentators are suggesting that this softening of the talk squad is a sign to Greek voters that the hard line supported by Varoufakis is a recipe for immediate bankruptcy and that they will soon have to accept even further belt-tightening in order to secure the next seven-billion-euro handout.

The Athens stock market gained more than 4.4 per cent on the news of the reshuffle.

L'Humanité gives the story top billing this morning and the communist daily is as angry as hell.

"Greek grief as Brussels breaks the bank," would be a rough translation of L'Huma's main headline, with the story explaining that it has taken the eurocrats just three months to smash the spirit of anti-austerity revolt which swept the Syriza party to power.

Sixty-nine per cent of Greek voters now think there's a real likelihood that their country could leave the eurozone.

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