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French press review 26 February 2018

Despite a UN call for an early ceasefire in Syria, the bombing of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta continues. Russia, France and Germany are united in their support of calls for a truce. Otherwise, the front pages are dominated by the high-risk battle, due to begin today, between the French prime minister and the employees of the national rail company.


Le Monde gives top spot to Syria, saying that the leaders of Russia, France and Germany are keen to continue a common effort for a truce.

This comes against the background of another series of bombings of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, despite Saturday's unanimous decision by the UN Security Council calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria "without delay" to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

Trump windfall leaves Buffett bemused

The same French centrist daily notes that Donald Trump's tax reforms have boosted the fortune of Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in the world, by no fewer than 29 billion dollars (24 billion euros). Buffett supported Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential face-off, and last year spoke out against Trump's tax proposals.

The additional billions are down to Trump's decision to reduce company tax. But Buffett says the situation is crazy, with more than half his profits coming out of thin air, "not because of anything we've produced".

He says what America needs most is not tax breaks for big companies but affordable health insurance for ordinary people.

Getting us back on the rails

Right-wing Le Figaro gives the honours to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who will later today announce the timetable and approach to be taken in the planned reform of the national rail company, the SNCF. The conservative paper modestly describes the proposed reform as "explosive".

Others have tried and failed to put manners on the SNCF's 160,000 employees. Right-wing prime minister Alain Juppé had to back down following a crippling strike in 1995.

Will the current prime minister try to reduce the comfort zone and expensive advantages of future rail company employees?

Probably, says Le Figaro.

Will he try and change the legal status of the whole operation?


Will he announce the closure of the dozens of tiny loss-making lines to the back end of nowhere?

Probably not, if only because he won't want to fight too many battles at the same time and already has enough trouble with a rural community which feels it has been left behind as the rest of France limps into the future.

The prime minister will be hoping for the support of public opinion, based on the fact that the debt of the SNCF increases by three billion euros every 12 months, and is currently costing every tax-paying French household 800 euros each year.

The crucial question for Le Figaro is how the government chooses to proceed: either by open parliamentary debate which would be bad enough for the rail unions, or by government decree, which would be like a red rag to a bull. Several unions have already made the equation clear: legislate by decree, they warn, and the nation will walk to work.

High-speed, high-risk operation in a slow sector

On the same subject, left-leaning Libération announces a new battle between the government and the railworkers, warning that the government may be trying to do too much too quickly in attempting to drag the sector into the 21st century.

Libé looks to see what lessons can be learned from the reforms carried out by the neighbours.

In Italy the partial privatisation of the network has meant faster, cheaper, better trains between the big cities. Opening the market to competition has forced the national carrier to reduce prices and improve its service. And, according to one analyst, having to compete has put the fear of God in the rail unions, who see a future of either bankruptcy or being bought out.

But the revolution has had little or no impact on local lines, still controlled by the state, still worn-out, costly and inefficient.

In the United Kingdom, says Libération, many strike-bound users of the 25 private companies which run the trains, when they run at all, would be happy to see the return to the days of public ownership and British Rail, abandonned all of 20 years ago.

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