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French press review 12 February 2016


Gravitational waves exist and so do black holes. The new French foreign minister is the old French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. François Hollande's latest cabinet reshuffle leaves most commentators unimpressed. Values on global stock exchanges continue to tumble, raising the spectre of another crisis.


It's all government reshuffle this morning.

Right-wing Le Figaro glumly acknowledges a final facelift to end François Hollande's five years at the helm. The conservative paper says the re-organisation of the cabinet . . . compared to the ill-fated Titanic, after the clash with the iceberg . . . has excited general scepticism.

Left-leaning Libération stresses the return of three ecology party members to the government ranks but is generally critical of changes which Libé feels won't help to unify the French left. And the little game of musical chairs does nothing to address the crucial problem which, says Libération, is unemployment.

Catholic La Croix says the new cabinet has a life-span of one year. The paper asks, what are they going to do with their 12 months?

Not much is the answer, since the broad orientations of this government are already well defined and won't be changed as time runs out.

No government wants to initiate painful reforms, says La Croix, only to see the benefits being reaped by the incoming administration. And the slow pace of Hollande's economic reforms means that he can't introduce anything very new while waiting for the earlier proposals, mainly the responsibility pact, to have a real impact.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of yesterday's cabinet reshuffle is the absence of surprises. This, says Le Monde, was a low-key operation, far from the radical change called for by some socialists to put the party on a war footing with a view to next year's electoral battles. Some ecologists are back, and so is Jean-Marc Ayrault. The rest is, grosso modo, business as usual.

The president warned weeks ago that this reshuffle would not signal any fundamental policy shifts. He has been as good as his word.

The new cabinet confirms the hard line on security with Manuel Valls still flanked by the same men in Defence and the Interior, with Jean-Jacques Urvoas a dependable if recent arrival at Justice. Emmanuel Macron keeps the helm at Economy, and that despite his harsh criticism of the government in this week's debate on the withdrawal of nationality.

Communist L'Humanité bluntly says the new cabinet is full of contradictions, and is a flop because the left wing has, once again, been ignored.

L'Huma wonders how long the Greens will stay fresh, given that this government has long given up on ecology and François Hollande simply wants to cash in on the huge media success of last year's Cop 21 climate beanfeast.

Whatever about the constellations of power here in France, the stellar world of astrophysics is jumpin'. Yesterday, there was a press conference in Washington to announce to the assembled (and probably confused) representatives of the press that a prediction made by Albert Einstein exactly 100 years ago had finally been confirmed: gravitational waves, you'll be happy to know, do indeed exist, and have been experimentally observed for the first time.

We are assured in Le Monde that this confirmation changes nothing less than the history of astronomy. It is a moment as important as that in which Galileo first put his eye to the blunt end of a telescope. We are no longer dependent on the light emitted by stars in our efforts to understand the origins and evolution of the universe, we can now "feel" the vibrations stellar bodies send out under certain cataclysmic situations.

Yesterday's single gravitational wave was generated by the collision and fusion of two black holes situated one billion light-years away. The energy of the collision and the resulting mass of the combined black holes were so enormous that they warped the structure of space in something like the way a stone dropped into a lake disturbs the water surface, sending out waves.

The change measured in the experiment described yesterday is a very feeble trace of that far-away energy, comparable to a variation smaller than the thickness of a human hair over the distance to the nearest star, 36 trillion kilometres away.

Which brings me to the other reason the normally staid men and women in grey suits and beards are currently dancing the highland fling: not only did they get their first gravitational wave, they also got the first direct evidence for the existence of black holes, two of the bastards for the price of one! A great day for cosmology!

Speaking of black holes, the Tokyo stock exchange has just closed for the day having lost 11 per cent of its value so far this week. Libération carries an inside article headlined "Global economy edges towards the gulf". The left-leaning paper says this coming crisis is being provoked by failures in banking, global finance and international monetary policy. The only clear lesson, laments Libé, is that we have learnt nothing from previous crises.

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