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French weekly magazine review 15 May 2016

DR

There's plenty of politics in this week's French magazines, from the dangers posed by a return to power of the right, to the quietly murderous battle between François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron on the left. Is it true that things are getting better? For whom? Is it possible to live a modern life unconnected to the World Wide Web? Do we benefit from our electronic devices or are we addicted to them?

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Le Point has a cover picture of former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the question "Can he save Hollande?" the implication being that, despite his record unpopularity, the current French president could get back in if the right were daft enough to choose Sarkozy as their candidate.

Le Nouvel Observateur also has Sarko on page one, flanked by other conservative contenders and a warning that a victory for the right will mean more austerity, more flexibility for the bosses, and a wave of ultraliberal economic policies. They could, says L'Obs, be even worse than Hollande.

L'Express looks at the division between the president and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, suggesting that Hollande is just waiting for the right moment to fire a man seen as insolent, independent and increasingly popular. Macron was originally brought in to help Hollande counter the growing popularity of Prime Minister Manuel Valls. That plan, says L'Express, has backfired big time, with the economy minister now playing first fiddle to the great annoyance of both Hollande and Valls.

Things are getting better, really?

The front cover of weekly magazine Marianne repeats the recent claim by the French president that "things are getting better".

Yes, but for whom? the magazine asks.

Objectively, according to Marianne, the French economy, schools, housing, employment and security are all doing badly. The president himself has little popular support and a barely theoretical parliamentary majority.

The continuing reaction against the government's decision to force through new labour legislation without a parliamentary debate, is symptomatic for Marianne of an administration incapable of packaging its proposals. The labour reform contained a lot of good ideas at the start. But the initial emphasis was on easier sackings and reduced compensation for those who lost their jobs. The government was never able to turn that idea around and focus on the positive aspects of the changes.

Marianne also says that the presidential vision has begun to shift, putting less emphasis on the inflexible unemployment statistics  - despite slight occasional variations, 10 percent of the working population in France is out of work - and instead concentrating on the more promising area of economic growth.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin recently announced that government action was finally bearing fruit. His excitement was due to an increase of two-tenths of one percent, from 0.3 of a single point at the end of last year to 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2016.

Brussels still expects French growth to trail behind the European average this year. And presidential elections always provoke expenditure, gifts, rebates and spending increases, so 2017 is unlikely to be much better.

Despite a market in which raw materials are being practically given away, French industry continues to lose ground, contributing less than half to the national economy than it did in 1970.

Is there life without the web?

Could we live without our screens? That's the question posed by Le Figaro Magazine, with the honours given to those brave people who have decided to risk disconnection and switch off their computers and smartphones for one hour, one weekend or even for the rest of their lives!

In less than 20 years, connected devices have come to occupy a huge chunk of our daily and professional lives, without anyone doing too much reflection on the implications.

Thank God for Le Figaro Magazine.

Ninety-eight percent of French people between the ages of 18 and 39 own smartphones. Very few of them actually talk into them. Instead they tap texts, likes, tweets, chats, posts, tags . . . and they check what their friends are doing. At an average rate of three hours 12 minutes per day!

In fact, they're all addicts, Le Figaro Magazine argues. The action of tapping is addictive; the need to be constantly reassured that we're not missing anything is addictive; ditto the feeling that we're part of a social network.

The problem is that it's a huge waste of time. And the devices go off during family dinners, Wagner operas, the reading of War and Peace, with predictable impacts on conversation and concentration.

Worse, most phone traffic is centred on now, to the detriment of the past and future. Since we need a sense of continuity in time to construct our personalities, our phones may be damaging us psychologically.

And having the phone on all the time also deprives us of the periods of calm reflection necessary for creativity and the interior life.

You can turn them off, as evidenced by Le Figaro's pioneers . . . a 16-year-old who prefers reading and fencing to Instagram; a historian who writes on paper; an architect who checks her phone just once each day for important messages; a journalist who went six weeks without onscreen activity, and lived to tell the tale!

Le Figaro Magazine ends with the assurance that anyone who has the patience and concentration to read an entire eight-page article should be able to adopt to a life with less electronic information. Unless, of course, they read the piece in its digital form on a smartphone.

Pivot's powerful presence

In sharp contrast, Le Monde Magazine gives the front-page honours to Bernard Pivot, a French literary icon who, at 81-years-old, is famous for his tweets.

He points to the huge impact Twitter had in the organisation of the Arab Spring revolutions. He has 363,000 followers. And he does it only in the morning, between 6.00 and 8.00am. Pivot offers bright observations on current events, often with a literary twist or reference. He never uses abbreviations or webwords. He's made only one grammatical error in six years of web presence. He thinks the smartphone is much better than crosswords for keeping the old grey matter ticking over.

Bernard Pivot has refused the Légion d'Honour four times. Earlier this year, when François Hollande gave the award to the Saudi Arabian crown prince, Pivot tweeted "The little red ribbon attached to the chest of a tyrant provokes large red blushes on the face of our president." Phones have their uses, after all.

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