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French press review 21 October 2017

Today will see another crucial clash in the struggle for Catalonia, as Spain starts the process of withdrawing the region's autonomy to prepare for elections. Will the new French wealth tax work? Or will it just make the rich richer? And is Europe at risk of being undermined by the resurgence of nationalism?


Today is a crucial day in the struggle for Catalonia.

Le Monde says Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to put the region under Madrid's control and order the holding of elections in January. Rajoy has the support of the Spanish Socialist and centrist opposition.

He'll reveal the details of the temporary withdrawal of Catalan autonomy after an emergency cabinet meeting to take place today. The decision will mark the first time since the establishment of the Spanish decentralised consitution in 1978 that any of the nation's 17 regions has had its autonomy withdrawn.

The government decision will then have to be ratified by the Spanish senate, where Rajoy supporters are in a majority.

The Spanish leader has told the European authorities in Brussels that regional separatists have left him no other option.

Will the rich live up to government expectations?

This is a good day to be rich in France.

Conservative daily Le Figaro gives pride of place to yesterday's vote by the French parliament, drastically reducing the wealth tax on cash and investments. From now on, only wealth in the form of houses and lands will be subject to taxation.

There was uproar from hard-left MPs behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon. "You are taking from the poor to give to the rich," howled François Ruffin. Mélenchon himself simply regretted a clash between two visions of the economy, saying that individuals were now being promoted ahead of the general interest.

His party contributed only two of the 103 ammendments to the law.

Against left-wing criticism that the government was pampering the rich, the majority defended the reform, refusing to see the wealth tax change as a gift to the well-heeled. Amélie de Montchalin described the new legislation as an investment pact, a means of ensuring that French businesses will have the capital needed to grow, export and take on more workers.

The problem, as pointed out by Charles de Courson, a moderate right-wing deputy, is that there's nothing to stop the beneficiaries of the new law from investing in government bonds, completely risk free. But, illogically, if they invest in the housing sector by building new homes, a high-risk activity, socially and economically crucial, they will be taxed.

Left-leaning Libération says the new law carries no certainties. The government claims to have acted pragmatically, with no respect for totems, taboos or symbols, to ensure greater financial efficiency.

But how efficient will it all be in practice, asks the left-leaning daily? Nothing obliges the rich to invest their newly awarded extra wealth in French companies. Opposition attempts to include guarantees to that effect were rejected.

Communist deputy Jean-Paul Lecoq described the new law as "economically inefficient and socially unjust".

The right-wing Republicans also spoke of injustice, saying the new law is unfair to those who own lots of property compared to those who own lots of cash and that all forms of wealth tax should be abolished.

Europe again haunted by the spectre of nationalism

Is Europe at risk of being undermined by the resurgence of nationalism?

That's the question posed in Le Monde by the analyst, geographer and former ambassador Michel Foucher.

The signs are worrying.

The German parliament has 90 new deputies from the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany movement; Brexit is a reality; Catalonia's leaders are striving for an independence that would see it automatically kicked out of the European family ...  we thought the old monsters of nationalism had been killed off by globalisation and interdepencence, invalidated by the lessons of history. But we were wrong. Nationalism is alive and well.

The basic problem, according to Michel Foucher, is that nobody wants to share any more. The Scots want to benefit from their gas reserves, the Catalans from their regional dynamism. No one wants more migrants. No one wants to pay to keep the euro afloat. Walls are being built, voters are being dragged to the political extremes.

The answer, says Foucher, is to recognise regional differences and discuss them as a community. He reminds us that democracy is not agreement, it is the ability to manage disagreement without conflict.

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