French Press Review, 30 September 2010

Three very different sorts of story dominate this morning's front pages.There's the budget for next year, launched in a cloud of gloom yesterday by a government warning that austerity is the only game in town. Then there's security, as France wonders just how seriously to take threats that hoards of Pakistani terrorists are going to start going off all over the place. And if all of that seems a bit rich, you can always get excited about the imminent arrival on French roads of the electric car.


But first, the bad news . . .

Next year's budget is going to bring tears to the eyes of the average French tax-payer. He or she is going to be squeezed, wrung-out, spin-dried and then put through a mangle. There will be cuts in just about every sphere of social and political existence. Bread and water will be the new "haute cuisine".

Communist l'Humanité has a front-page cartoon of an unfortunate being devoured by his own wallet, and the headline "Social injustice, strangled growth".

Catholic La Croix goes for the more sobre approach with "Spending down, taxes up".

Le Monde analyses the whole affair as a delicate balance between the political needs implied by the 2012 elections and the economic needs imposed by a 157 billion euro national debt.

Then there's the security story, coming from no less a source than Rupert Murdoch's Sky News. They recently revealed the existence of a Pakistani plot to launch terrorist attacks across Europe.

Le Figaro takes this menace very seriously, assuring us that the security services are on the ball and we are all safe in our beds.

Le Monde talks to the same security services and learns that they don't believe a word of the Sky story. Europe is not, to the best of anyone's current knowledge, on the verge of multiple kamikaze attacks. And even if it was, says one security services source, you don't help the situation by going on about it in the daily newspapers. That's not how the security business works.

And then there's the electric car, making front-page news with the opening, today, of the Paris Motor Show. The new generation of vehicles may be good news for the environment, even if the electricity to make them go comes from coal-guzzling or nuclear generators. The electric car is certainly good news for the motor industry, which no longer has to worry about the price of petrol or the imminent end of fossil fuels. The problem is that the new gizmos are going to be very heavy, very expensive and won't go very far without being plugged in for a feed.My man Silvio Berlusconi got off the hook in the Italian parliament yesterday, winning a vote of confidence and ensuring that Italians won't have to rush back to the polling stations just yet.

'Il Cavaliere' survived with the support of right-wing rebels under the control of former Berlusconi ally, Gianfranco Fini. Fini says he did it for the good of the country. Le Monde suggests he did it to save his skin, which has recently been flayed off his back in broad strips by Berlusconi newspapers. As soon as Fini started getting uppity, a Berlusconi print discovered that Fini's brother-in-law was living in a Monaco apartment which used to belong to the National Alliance. Said apartment, worth a king's ransom, was allegedly sold to the brother-in-law for a knock-down 300,000 euros, despite being party property. Bad news for Fini, who has always campaigned as that rare thing, the honest Italian politician. The story, of course, may not be true. But that has never stopped Berlusconi when it comes to putting manners on his political rivals.

As former anti-corruption judge, Antonio di Pietro puts it, it's the Berlusconi method: "First he tries to buy you off," says Di Pietro. "If that doesn't work, he'll kill you." Sounds uncannily like the line from Al Capone, who famously observed that, growing up on New York's lower east side, "you could go anywhere with a friendly smile on your face, and a loaded gun in your pocket."

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