French press review 22 October 2010

As you can rightly imagine, strikes and mayhem against pension reform continue to dominate the papers. But Le Figaro makes a strange front-page detour through to the 18th century, to revisit the story of Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes.


Le Figaro's main story explains that the government yesterday demanded a "single vote" on the pensions issue in the Senate. That's a way of accelerating the debate, by obliging the senators to vote just once on all aspects of the law, take it or leave it, despite the fact that 228 amendments of an original 254 remain to be considered. The government hopes that the law can thus be passed in the course of this Friday. Socialist leader Martine Aubrey says the decision to insist on the single vote, which has been used just five times in the course of the Sarkozy presidency, "discredits and disgraces" the government.

Left-wing Libération gives headline status to "The Hard Line", a reference to the president's determination to lift the petrol blockade and save the country from being held hostage by disgruntled pensioners.

Catholic La Croix headline announce "France gets the 'flu’", a reference to the cold weather, the harsh social climate and the fact that bed seems to be the only safe place right now.

Communist l'Humanité is angry about the "authoritarianism" shown by the government in insisting on the blocked vote in the Senate.

Business paper Les Echos settles for the simple, if chilling, statement "Protests continue, Fench economy goes down the drain". The building, transport and chemical sectors are suffering because of the fuel shortage. And this at the very moment that the French business climate appeared to be brightening after the gloom of the global crisis.

We're not out of the woods yet. Two further national stikes were agreed by the trade unions yesterday. One for next Thursday, one for the end of the holidays, on November 6th.

Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes gets front-page treatment in today's Le Figaro.

Chrétien-Guillaume was the 18th century French lawyer who accepted the noble if risky and unrewarding job of defending Louis XVI, the French king to end all French kings. He did his defending, with a lot of courage and some class, before a revolutionary tribunal that believed in giving the guilty a fair trial before sending them to the guillotine.

His client, the ex-king, and the client's missus, Marie-Antoinette, predictably lost their case, and subsequently lost their heads. Unlike today's lawyers, who pocket their remittance whatever the outcome, Malesherbes shortly afterwards followed his illustrious if unlucky clients up the steps of the killing machine, where he lost his own head.

Malesherbes stumbled on climbing into the wagon that was to transport him to the place of execution. He wryly observed that, under similar circumstances, a Roman senator would decide that the day was ill-omened and would return home. Malesherbes wasn't given the choice. He was guillotined on April 22, 1794.

He has since had a boulevard named after him here in Paris. Now, some people feel his name on the street plaques should be followed by the qualification "Defender of Louis XVI".

The Boulevard Malesherbes is home to the modern descendants of the great lawyer, with190 legal companies there established. Among those 190 is the name of one Nicolas Sarkozy, currently out of the office because of a prior engagement. But it might do him no harm to remember a time when leaders the people didn't like had more to worry about than a series of national strikes.

Said Nick Sarkozy might feel that a trip to the guillotine would be a let-off, compared to trying to govern the people who ousted Louis XVI.

Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes would probably have found the whole situation a bit ironic.

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