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French press review 20 March 2018

After months of pushing and shoving, Brussels has finally forced the UK a little closer to the Brexit ejector seat. The EU is hailing the advance as a huge step forward. And a collective of 100 French intellectuals warns that the republic is threatened by a new form of totalitarianism.


Brussels has finally forced London to make a pile of concessions on the Brexit deal. That's the top story in Le Monde where we are assured that Britain's weak position has forced Prime Minister Theresa May to abandon the majority of London's claims for the so-called "transition period".

The pressure hasn't come from Brussels but from UK business leaders who have been warning May of the dangers of further foostering.

So, what has been established?

We're not talking handovers of vast sacks of cash. It's all fairly technical, I'm afraid, and there's an awful lot of serious stuff still to be thrashed out:

  • The transition period will last the 21 months demanded by Brussels, not the two years asked for by London.
  • European Union citizens who move to the United Kingdom during the transition period will have the same rights as those who arrived before Brexit.
  • London will lose its veto rights on European legislation.
  • The UK will continue to be part of the single market until 31 December 2020, provided it continues to pay its share of the European budget, but it will no longer have representatives at the European Parliament, nor will UK ministers be invited to meetings in Brussels.
  • Trade deals made by London with countries outside the EU can not come into effect until the end of the transition period.

Michel Barnier, Europe's top negotiator, is delighted. He says a major step forward has been made.

David Davis, London's main man, seems less delighted.

There's a photograph in Le Monde of the pair engaging in the statutory end-of-bout handshake, Barnier all power and confidence, Davis looking as if he fears losing a few fingers. Or worse, when he reports back to the gauleiter in London.

Is France on the verge of another religious war?

Le Figaro is worried about what the right-wing paper calls "Islamic separatism".

The daily published a warning signed by 100 French intellectuals from practically all sectors of the political spectrum, denouncing "a new form of totalitarianism", which they say is a threat to the republican ideal of liberty.

The open letter says this Islamic totalitarianism is trying to gain ground by posing as the victim of a wider intolerance.

Giving the example of a recent series of workshops organised by a teachers' trade union, with the aim of reflecting on racism, from which white participants were banned, the signatories warn that any attempt to solve the problem of racism by separating the races is incompatible with both common sense and another republican ideal, that of fraternity.

The writers go on to say that France is on the brink of a form of apartheid, a segregation under which a minority population which feels dominated will be allowed to preserve its collective dignity by hiding away from those who dominate it.

What will that mean for the freedom of choice of those, men and women, who are part of the so-called "dominated group" but do not accept its rules, who want to live in a free and open democracy?

The writers - and many of them, like Waleed al-Husseini, Vida Azimi, Fatiha Boudjahlat, Ibn Warraq, Fawzia Zouari - are Muslim and want a free society where the sexes can mingle freely and where women are not considered inferior by nature.

The republican ideal, we are told, is not based on the denial of sexual, racial or religious difference, but on the definition of a civic space from which no one is excluded. There can be no special rights, no closed groups, no castes, sects or cabals.

If we lose sight of that fundamental fact, say the writers, we risk a return to the dark days of the wars of religion.

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