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FRANCE

French press review 18 October 2018

This morning, the spotlight falls, not for the first or last time, on the Brexit talks, still bogged down in Brussels.

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There's a lot of British prime minister Theresa May on this morning's front pages.

Le Monde says that the Brexit negotiations to get the United Kingdom out of the European Union in good order are still deadlocked, notably on the question of the border separating Northern Ireland, which is leaving, from the Republic, which is remaining.

Last night's Brussels summit involving the British leader and the 27 other EU governments, billed as "crucial" for the success of the UK departure, was all over in less than three-and-a-half hours, including the dinner.

There wasn't much left to be said in the wake of last week-end's collapse of talks between London and Michel Barnier, the Union's top negotiator.

Now it looks as if the palaver period is going to have to be extended by at least weeks, perhaps even months. Words like "calm," "patience" and "comprehension" were being used with worrying frequency.

Europe seems finally to have woken up to the depths of the problems facing May, and to the dangers of insisting that she come up with a magic solution. The chief internal danger is that May could lose control of her government, already sharply divided on the means and manner of  a British departure. Externally, there's the risk of reaching the departure date, 29 March next, without a deal. That could, at least theoretically, lead to the closure of European airspace to British aircraft, to visa demands on both side of the Channel, monumental delays at Calais, to total and utter chaos in such realms as business, football, international assurance and the price of a sausage butty.

Le Monde says the only real progress that can be reported from Brussels is that the atmosphere was slightly less poisonous than the last time the warring parties met, in Salzburg in September. "We have reached base camp," said one diplomat, "but there are still several steep climbs before we get to the top".

How close are we to divorce without a deal?

Right-wing Le Figaro reports from a meeting which was, according to the conservative daily, haunted by the spectre of a divorce without a deal. The fact that next month's summit has been put on hold is a very dark sign for Le Figaro.

The feeling in Brussels is summed up as "worried" but not "panicked". Not yet, anyway.

But everyone is worried about the prospect of a no deal. Last night at dinner, the 28 leaders listened while Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Commission, described the current state of preparations for life after a failure of the negotiations, the first time such a scenario has been given official recognition while the heads of state have been at the trough.

In a separate article, Le Figaro notes that the German chancellor Angela Merkel has already got her economy and business community well down the road in preparation for a failure of the talks with London.

Two years of talks without turning point

Left-leaning Libération says the Brexit negotiations are like the film Groundhog Day, in which a self-centered TV presenter is obliged to live the same stupid day over and over again, until he can find some meaning in life. And Libé says it's all the fault of the Brits: they go on insisting on conditions which are completely unacceptable for the remaining 27 members of the trading group.

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