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French press review 22 October 2016

A Belgian region manages to scupper a trade agreement between Europe and Canada.  Ratings agency Standard & Poor's boosts the French economic outlook. The prospects for the European Mars lander are, unfortunately, bleak. And why is South Africa leaving the International Criminal Court?


Le Monde says there'll be no Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Europe and Canada. This is because the southern French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia is opposed to the deal and has excercised its veto.

Supporters of the agreement, presented as a sort of alternative to the more widely contested Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, say Europe thus loses one of the best trade deals ever negotiated. Detractors say it's all mooseshit, threatening agriculture, public services and the environment.

Le Monde says the Wallon regional authorities may still be brought on-board but that's likely to add months to an already millennia-long negotiating process. Or they may keep saying "Non," in which case trade between Europe and Canada will remain in the slow lane.

Standard & Poor's boost French debt rating

Le Figaro has a bit of good news for the French economy. The ratings agency Standard & Poor's has confirmed the country's AA sovereign debt rating but has improved the outlook from "negative" to "stable," even if it warns that there are still serious budgetary risks doging the French economy.

The French debt is currently a monumental 2,171 billion euros or 98 percent of what the nation can produce.

But the economists at Standard & Poor's have been impressed by reforms aimed at boosting economic growth and by efforts to reduce public spending.

Black week for the International Criminal Court

Libération looks back on what it calls a bad week for the International Criminal Court. With two African countries, Burundi and South Africa, announcing their intention to withdraw from the Hague-based institution, which has sentenced just three people in 15 years of existence.

Libé says Burundi's decision is relatively easy to understand, in the wake of 18 months of state-sponsored massacres. President Pierre Nkurunziza cannot risk judgement before any independent tribunal.

South Africa would seem to be protecting lucrative bilateral trade deal with Sudan, whose president Omar el-Bashir is wanted by the ICC on suspicion of organising crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Nine of the 10 cases currently being investigated by the ICC concern African countries, supporting the perception that the Dutch-based institution has an anti-African bias.

European Mars missions lands with a bang

Schiaparelli is dead. That's official, and there are even photographs to prove it.

Schiaparelli, you probably know, was the landing craft associated with the European mission to Mars, a sort of foil tray laden with scientific aparatus, which was supposed to make gentle contact with the Red Planet last Wednesday afternoon. There's been silence since. It turns out that the gizmo was going like the clappers when it crashed into Mars and wiped itsefl out. It's none too surprising.

The lander was doing 21,000 kilometres per hour when it left the mother vessel, the none-too-maternal sounding Trace Gas Orbiter. Touchdown was scheduled to take place just six minutes later, at which stage the box of tricks was supposed to have slowed to a pedestrian 10 kilometres per hour.

It didn't work.

The mother watched horrified as, first, the braking rockets cut out too early and then the parachute seems to have been ripped off the landing craft. It hit Mars doing something like 300 kilometres per hour and left nothing but a dark patch and a small additional crater to mark its arrival.

Europe thus adds another honourable name to that of Beagle 2, lost in action on Mars in 2003.

The US has landed two successful Martian rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, who've been wandering around for years, beating up the local rocks and taking selfies.

Europe at least has two satellites orbitting Mars. That's good. But the tragic loss of Schiaparelli is going to prove expensive. The European Space Agency is trying to convince participating governments to chip in a further 300 million euros to keep the Old Continent's interest in Mars aloft.

But does Europe really want to invest in another Martian crater?

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