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French press review 29 October 2018

There's plenty of good news for enthusiasts of the far right on the front page of Le Monde. Will the majority France on the Move party survive the debate on bioethics?


Brazil's newly-elected leader, Jair Bolsonaro, is politely described by Le Monde as "ultraliberal" and "antisystem".

His enemies, and the historian Maud Chirio, interviewed by the centrist daily, say he's a fascist. For instance, Bolsonaro is on record as lamenting the fact that the repression practiced by under Brazil's military regime between 1964 and '85 was not sufficiently severe.

He thinks Brazil would be a better place if, instead of the 500-or-so opposition figures who were murdered by the army dictators, they had killed at least 30,000 as was managed in neighbouring Argentina.

Bolsonaro is in favour of relaxing already fairly loose gun laws so that the population can "protect itself". And he's no friend of the environment, a shame and a danger since the Amazon Basin forms a large and currently very fragile part of the land he will govern.

The other Le Monde story to warm extremist hearts concerns Angela Merkel's struggling coalition in Germany. In weekend elections in the Hesse region, the parties in the ruling coalition - Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats - lost 10 points compared to their performance in 2013. And the far-right Alternative for Germany gets into the regional parliament for the first time.

Macron and the bioethics debate

Le Figaro gives the front-page honours to French President Emmanuel Macron and the tortured questions associated with what we call "bioethics".

The French government is currently preparing a law which will pronounce on the divisive issues of medically assisted pregnancy and surrogate parenthood.

If the medical technology is already well in place, there remains a wide ethical division between those, practising Catholics for example, who regard such interventions as unnatural, and others who feel that parenthood is a human right which can be perfectly well confided to a lesbian couple or to a single person.

Macron wants to avoid the sort of public dissension which marred the debate on homosexual marriage. And, according to Le Figaro, he's not just afraid of the marches and protest meetings: he's worried about widening the divisions within his own political family.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, for example, is ardently and publicly against opening parenthood to homosexual couples.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is a recent convert to the presidential cause but has in the past, when he was part of Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans party, expressed his "resolute opposition" to allowing homosexuals become parents.

Diversity in government

Macron has already held one cabinet meeting at which the ministers were asked to voice freely their opinions on the bioethical question.

A range of points of view emerged, says Le Figaro, reflecting the diverse backgrounds of the members of the presidential France on the Move party, but no miracle synthesis emerged.

Macron knows that he'll never get anything like broad agreement on such a difficult topic. But he wants to find a way of handling the debate with delicacy and dignity, avoiding the ghastly mess that so damaged the Hollande presidency during the 2013 debate on marriage for all. Macron was at the time a close presidential assistant. He has said he was shocked to see part of the electorate "humiliated" and "ignored" and vowed never to make the same mistakes himself.

Especially since the political price for a division within his own party, say if there was a reemergence of the Parliamentary Coalition for the Family which sprang up with cross-party support during the debate on homosexual marriage. That would leave Macron's image as the politician of the future, neither left-wing nor right-wing, in tatters.

The plan, as Le Figaro currently understands it, is for a working committee to produce the closest thing to a final proposition before the bill ever gets to parliament. This will allow members of the ruling majority to voice their objections without having to make a public fuss. And it will also shorten the actual debate in the house.

The problem, of course, is that the basic ethical divisions won't vanish simply because they get debated in private. The Macron strategy may do no more than push the inevitable explosion to a later date. And ensure a louder bang.

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