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French press review 8 August 2018

President Macron's Chief of Staff, Alexis Kohler, in fresh influence peddling charges over shipyard contracts. And China piles up trade surplus with Africa by playing outside the rules.


The publication says it found out that Kohler, often referred to as President Macron's “twin” brother, violated conflict of interest rules while he was a civil servant at the finance ministry.

Le Parisien claims that in the accusations levelled by Mediapart, Alexis Kohler benefitted from his close family links to the owners of a Swiss–Italian shipping company MSC that is a major client of one of France’s main shipyards.

The Parisian publication gives a background to the suspected scandal. Kohler it recalls was at the finance ministry between 2012 and 2016 as cabinet director to Macron, who was then the minister.

According to the newspaper, he left the ministry in 2016 when Macron resigned from his post in François Hollande’s Socialist government to concentrate on the presidential election. Kohler then moved to Geneva to take up a position as financial director on MSC’s board, the company founded by his mother's cousins, family links he hid from the parliamentary ethics commission.

Mediapart also alleged that after leaving the finance ministry and becoming an executive of MSC in 2016, Kohler took part in at least one ministry meeting to discuss the fate of STX, a French state-supported shipbuilding company and a major supplier to the Swiss-Italian shipping company, while he was advising Macron’s presidential campaign for free at the same time.

L'Union expects the affair to become another embarrassment to President Macron whose image has been badly damaged by the Benalla scandal.

According to the regional newspaper, his communication strategists will have a hard time explaining the exact nature of his chief of staff's relationship with MSC, and what role he played in the management board of the French shipyards at Le Havre.

Le Figaro says that the noose is tightening around the neck of the Elysée Secretary General.

It says that the leaked documents confirming that Kohler effectively approved two contracts signed with an affiliate of the MSC group, the main client of the French shipyards at Saint-Nazaire, are likely to be added to the case file of an ongoing investigation by the financial crimes prosecutor's office.

Trade worries

France's commercial deficit is the front page story in today's Le Figaro, as the latest figures showed exports dropped 0.2 billion euros in the first six months of 2018.

The paper pointed out a slump in the export of “Made in France” products, which produced 33.5 billion euros in revenue. Le Figaro warns that with such a speed the economy risks slumping in another black year, projecting a commercial deficit of 60 billion euros in December.

On the topic of foreign trade, the latest Le Monde criticizes the unethical dealings that have enabled China to pile up an incredible trade surplus with Africa. Its exports to the continent, which stood at 10 billion dollars in 2000, stand at 200 billion dollars today, according to the newspaper.

Le Monde says that on top of basic commodities vital for China's economic development -- such as Angolan and Nigerian oil, Congolese copper and cobalt, Namibian uranium, Guinean bauxite, rare minerals of all sorts sand for the production of cement and precious woods -- China has also made Africa a promising consumer market for its manufactured products.

This, according to the newspaper, is in exchange for large-scale funding for the construction of dams, ports, railways, factories and housing estates, without the obligation to respect social and environmental norms.

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