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French press review 10 March 2016

DR

Yesterday's strikes and protest marches dominate the French front pages with disagreement about how many demonstrated against a controversial labour-relations bill. 

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There were strikes and protests here in France yesterday against proposed changes to labour law in general and against current working conditions in the rail sector in particular.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

This morning we have the editors playing the usual post-strike numbers game: left-leaning Libération assures readers that there were over 200,000 protesters nationwide at marches organised to protest against changes to labour laws. Nonsense, says communist daily L'Humanité, there were 100,000 marchers in Paris alone, half a million nationwide.

According to right-wing Le Figaro, the police counted 29,000 marchers in Paris, giving a national total of 224,000.

The papers are equally divided on what yesterday's protests suggest about the average worker's attitude to the proposed changes.

Le Figaro says the poor turnout proves that there is no fundamental movement of rejection of the changes. L'Humanité says the nation's streets have not been so filled with angry young people since the 2006 protests against president Jacques Chirac's right-wing government's attempts to introduce the little-loved CPE, a sort of junior job deal which was intended for young people.

Le Monde asked about two dozen top economists to estimate the impact of the proposed changes on unemployment, given that the government says the idea is to make the French labour market more flexible.

The news is not good.

The experts say making it easier to sack people won't have any positive effect on the numbers out of work. That will require nothing less than a change of political direction.

Le Figaro asked a different bunch of top economists the same question and got the opposite answer. According to the experts in the right-wing daily, changing the law controlling sackings will increase job security and reduce unemployment.

Dossier: May 68

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy is on the front page of centrist Le Monde, promising to cut 300,000 jobs in the public sector if he's reelected next year.

The right-wing leader, who is a long way from winning his Republicans party nomination, is critical of the current administration. He says there's a complete divorce between President François Hollande and the French people; worse, Hollande has even lost the support of Socialist voters.

On the question of his own party's primaries, which former prime minister Alain Juppé is currently well placed to win, Sarkozy cleverly replies, "I like Alain Juppé too much to condemn him to the role of favourite." If Alain Juppé is listening to this, I hope he hasn't choked on his croissant at the shock news that Sarko likes him.

Brussels has a lot on its plate right now.

The eurozone economy is going backwards; the Brits are threathening to jump ship; the Turks want billions to do the dirty work of keeping Syrian refugees off Greek beaches. And then there's France, and its budgetary disequilibrium. The European Union says the Paris government is spending far too much money and doing too little to increase industrial competitiveness.

France, Italy and Portugal are all in line for yellow cards from Brussels with, at least theoretically, more serious sanctions if they don't get themselves back in line, sharpish. Always assuming that the money marketeers and hedge funds don't jump on the bandwagon and put the struggling national economies under even greater pressure. Which exposure to profiteering is one of the eurozone's chief weaknesses.

Part of the reason France is so far over its ears in debt is, of course, the huge security bill for army and police overtime in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks.

Right-wing paper Le Figaro gives front-page prominence to a plan, due to be announced by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian later today, to beef up the military reserve, ultimately with a view to getting the volunteer reservists to play a broader role in security under the current state of emergency.

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