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French press review 23 February 2016


Several papers look at the situation in the northen French port city of Calais where a huge camp housing thousands of migrants is to be closed down tonight. Will the closure do anything to solve the fundamental problem or is it just another enforced move for people who have nothing to lose?


The migrant camp known as the Jungle in the northern French port city of Calais gets the front-page treatment from left-leaning paper Libération.

By eight o'clock tonight, an unknown number of migrants - the police estimate is 800-1,000 people - are supposed to leave the southern zone of the Jungle and move to other accommodation centres, most of them far from the channel port and the chance of eventually escaping to England.

Libération says tonight's evacuation of part of the Jungle is a mirage since it won't solve the problem of the thousands of migrants who arrive there. If the destruction of the camp doesn't lead to violence, it will simply move thousands of desperate people elsewhere, and briefly. They will be back because they have nowhere else to go.

Libération's editorial reminds us that this story doesn't date from yesterday.

The left-leaning paper quotes a French political figure in 2009 describing the Jungle as "a savage translation of the failure of European immigartion policy".

The same figure criticised then president Nicolas Sarkozy of attempting to hide the problem of Calais's migrants under a pile of press releases, going on to suggest that what was needed was greater cooperation between France and England and between France and the governments in the home nations of the migrants. France, we were told, needed to offer a dignified and humane welcome to each of the exiles, otherwise the country would be guilty of hypocrisy, of trying to hide the human beings who reminded too many French people of the ghosts of earlier wars, other failures by French governments.

The speaker ended his tirade by offering Sarkozy the choice between civilisation and savagery. And the man who offered that stark choice to his predecessor was François Hollande.

Libé suggests that the current French president should remember his own words and stop the police bulldozers that are due to demolish the Jungle at eight o'clock tonight, precisely at the time the main evening news bulletins begin on French TV.

The ongoing debates about reforming French labour law and changing the rules about unemployment benefit dominate the front pages of Le Monde and Le Figaro.

Centrist Le Monde says both subjects are politically lethal for a Socialist president caught between struggling business leaders, angry trade unionists and a governing majority increasingly riven by the drift of their party leadership from socialism towards market liberalism.

Some workers at the government jobs agency say the proposals will simply increase the strain in their relations with job-seekers, without doing anything to reduce unemployment. They have described the suggestion that unemployment benefit be gradually reduced for long-term recipients as "a return to the Stone Age".

Right-wing Le Figaro notes that the proposed reform of labour law and the recent debate on the withdrawal of French nationality from those convicted of terrorist crimes have combined to further damage the image of the French president within his own party.

A recent opinion poll shows Hollande slipping by seven points in Socialist Party supporters' esteem.

Le Figaro's editorial says the president is paying the price of his own inability to make decisions and stick to them. Worse, says the the conservative paper's leader, he had to wait four years before finally realising the crying need for crucial reforms.

Of course, he would have risked a plunge in his popularity ratings, says Le Figaro, but at least he would have achieved something worthwhile. As things stand, he's deeply unpopular anyway but the reforms remain a long way from realisation. The worst of both worlds.

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