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French press review 24 June 2015

The intelligence services in Washinton have been spying on at least three French presidents. How intelligent is that? The French Academy, the nation's intellectual watchdog, is critical of recent reforms of the secondary education system. And Greece is still afloat. Just.

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Left-leaning newspaper Libération says Washington has spied on at least three French presidents, listening to the telephone conversations of François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

The information comes from the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks. Libé's report includes a copy of one document in which the National Security Agency (NSA) gives details of a secret French government meeting, called by Hollande to discuss the implications of a possible Greek exit from the eurozone. The document is dated 22 May 2012 and includes an instuction from the president to the then prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, to initiate a meeting on the same subject with members of the German opposition Social Democratic Party.

The NSA document not only provides this information, it also explains why it is crucial for France to conceal any contact with the German opposition from Chancellor Angela Merkel, considered at the time by Paris to be too rigid in her interpretation of the European fiscal pact.

The possibility of a meeting between the French president and officials of the Social Democratic Party was never mentioned in either the French or German media until the meeting actually took place on Wednesday 13 June 2012. The American intelligence services had a three-week start on the rest of the world.

Two days after the meeting took place, a furious German chancellor announced that "mediocrities could not be allowed to influence the future of the entire Euro zone," and Merkel pointedly referred to the lack of trustworthiness of certain key players. Libé describes her comments as the harshest ever used in recent Franco-German relations.

Right-wing Le Figaro reports the same story with a proper degree of conservative scepticism. But Figaro puts its own doubts in doubt by noting that President Hollande has called a Defence Council meeting to discuss the question of espionage this very day.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Le Figaro says US spying appears to take an interest in everyone . . . presidents, ministers, civil servants, MPs and diplomats . . . and has revealed, for example, that in 2008, Sarkozy believed himself to be the only man capable of sorting out the financial crisis. Chirac's foreign affairs minister, Philippe Doust-Blazy, is described as being inclined to "incorrect and untimely" statements. You didn't need a billion-dollar spying machine to tell you that.

Both Le Figaro and Libération stress that there's no suggestion of any leak of crucial military or defence secrets, for which secure communications channels are in place.

Libé's editorial does, however, wonder at the point of this obsessive interest in ofter banal conversations. How much time and money is wasted, wonders the left-leaning paper, as Washington sifts through the mountain of mulch collected by its spies. The editorial suggests that a subscription to Libération might be better value if the NSA really wants to know what's going on in France.

What's going on in Greece?

Well, according to Le Monde, there's hope of a deal. Communist L'Humanité says Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has put the bad bankers in their place. Le Figaro thinks the same Greek leader is himself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as he tries to satisfy the lenders and his own socialist supporters.

We'll know for sure any day now, since Athens needs cash by the end of the month or they'll have to start selling the furniture.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

Le Figaro says the French Academy, the nation's intellectual watchdog, has harshly criticised the recent reform of secondary education, describing it as a backward step for the teaching of French and a weakening of traditional disciplines. It's the first time in 40 years that the Academy has issued a negative opinion on education reform.

Catholic La Croix looks forward to the church's next big meeting on the family, due to take place in October. There's a possibility, according to the Catholic daily, of a new openness on the question of allowing those who have divorced to remarry, something which is currently taboo.

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