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French press review 17 September 2015


Presidents a-plenty this morning, with Vladimir Putin offering to solve the Syrian crisis while keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Then there's Nicolas Sarkozy, president of a party, assuring anyone who'll listen that he's not given to weakness. And Viktor Orban, he's a prime minister, explains Hungary's barbed-wire fences.


Russian head honcho Vladimir Putin has a plan for Syria, and it gets him onto the front page of this morning's Le Monde.

Vlad wants everybody else to help his mate Bashar al-Assad beat the living daylights out of the Islamic State (IS) armed group. On the basis that my enemy's enemy is my friend, the Kremlin thinks that the Western allies should forget their differences with the Syrian dictator and hunker down to defeat the real bad guys.

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The Western allies, meanwhile, insist that Assad must go. Putin says Moscow will continue to provide cash, military and technical assistance to the regime in Damascus.

Libération's front page says someone needs to come up with a Plan B for Syria where the Assad army continues to kill those not being killed by Islamic State and where air strikes by the good old Western allies have done diddly squat. The fact that Russia continues to support Damascus tooth and nail is not helping either, the paper says.

Libé's editorial says the first step must be to mobilise regional governments to fight IS on the ground and then Moscow's Putin must be forced to the negotiating table. At that rate, Plan B doesn't sound much more promising than Plan A.

French mayors are on three front pages - and they are not a happy lot.

Communist L'Humanité has the men and women who run French towns and cities uttering a collective "cry of alarm". Catholic La Croix says they are revolting. No offence. Right-wing Le Figaro looks at the case of the capital, saying Paris is having trouble accommodating the increased number of asylum-seekers, a situation which has led to the spread of camps and shanty-towns.

The central problem for Paris and the other towns and cities is lack of finance.

Trying to save money to meet European budgetary committments, central government has cut back on its contributions to local administrations and they are now feeling the pinch. The Association of French mayors says as many as 3,000 communes could be bankrupt by the end of this year, a figure denied by the government.

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The mayors have called for a day of action next Saturday.

If you want to know what Nicolas Sarkozy thinks about refugees, migrants and the other savage hordes threathening the serenity of Europe, the answer was made very clear yesterday at a workshop of members of his party, the Republicans, devoted to the crisis.

"Let nobody try to accuse me of weakness," Sarkozy assured his conservative colleagues. "I have no time for it".

I should have said "some of his conservative colleagues," since the workshop did not involve either Alain Juppé, François Fillon or Bruno Le Maire, all potential stumbling blocks on Sarkozy's troubled route back to the French presidency.

Le Monde suggests that the former president is trying to steer a line between the zero migration policy advocated by the far right and what he believes to be the "excessive generosity" of the ruling Socialists. He's also trying to show that he's tougher than Alain Juppé.

Sarko is against quotas and wants a complete overhaul of European immigration policy. He is happy to welcome a number of refugees from war zones, provided they promise to go home once the war is over. And he wants a parallel effort to put an end to economic migration.

Sarkozy also wants to put an end to state medical aid offered to illegal arrivals in France and says he's ready to reconsider the law whereby a person born here is automatically entitled to French nationality, thus reversing two commitments made during his 2012 presidential campaign and imitating the line held by Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National.

Le Figaro carries an interview with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, much criticised recently for his government's decision to build a barbed-wire fence along his country's border with Serbia. It's no coincidence that Orban agreed to talk to the right-wing paper (the same interview appears in the London Times, a Murdoch publication, Germany's conservative Die Welt and the centre-right Austrian daily Die Presse).

Orban says it is ridiculous for Europe to discuss migrant quotas against the current background of financial and employment crisis. Worse, he believes misplaced European generosity has worsened the plight of those who've been misled into thinking that they will be welcome here.

He says we have to stop philosophising about what is a practical problem.

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