French press review 13 January 2011

Belgians are growing beards. According to Le Monde, the actor Benoit Poelvoorde, worried by how Belgium has now managed to go for more than 200 days without any government, has called on his countrymen (and women) to stop shaving until the political crisis is resolved.

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It may take more than hairy chins and furry legs to re-unite the Flemish and Walloon communities, but it won't make a huge amount of difference for Poelvoorde, who already has a beard, and - presumably - hairy legs.

Communist l'Humanité devotes its front page to Tunisia. The headline is uncompromising, accusing President Ben Ali of murder.

Tunisian trade unions contacted by the communist daily's reporter in Tunis say there have been at least 50 deaths. L'Humanité accuses the European Union and France of complicity in those killings because of their failure to condemn the actions of the Ben Ali dictatorship.

Right-wing Le Figaro looks at the same story, but from a very different angle. The headline reads: "Ben Ali imposes a curfew". The small print explains that the Tunisian president has made gestures towards restoring peace by sacking his Interior Minister and freeing those arrested during earlier protests.

The right-wing paper laments the fact that the root causes of the revolt - endemic unemployment and civil service corruption - will take more than a few presidential gestures to put right. But Le Figaro's front page makes no reference to any death toll.

The euro is back in favour on the world's financial markets. How long that will last is anyone's guess, but business daily Les Echos believes it to be worth a banner headline on page one.

The reason for the euphoria is Portugal, yesterday teetering on the brink of the same gulf that has already swallowed Greece and Ireland, today proudly counting the returns from the sale of 1.25 billion euros’ worth of government bonds.

The country is due to pay back 26 billion euros to earlier bond holders this year, so don't be surprised if the boom turns to doom before very long.

And watch out for Italy. Les Echos has the Italian treasury head, Maria Cannata, assuring investors that there is nothing "peripheral" about the peninsular economy - which suggests that the pizza dough is about to hit the fan.

Leftist Libération continues to pound the beaten track of the Mediator scandal. This is the story of the appetite-suppressant that continued to be prescribed by doctors here in France years after it had been banned as dangerous in Spain and the US.

At least 500 French patients - perhaps as many as 2,000 - are suspected of having died from heart problems as a direct result of taking the drug.

According to a heart specialist interviewed by Libération, the company behind Mediator asked him to write a report on possible links between the product and poor cardiac health in July 2009. He found a worrying relationship between the use of Mediator and heart failure in a majority of cases. But by the time the specialist's findings reached the French Health Security Agency, they had been watered down, and a global approval of the producing laboratory's procedures had been added.

This was an approval the specialist never voiced, and a direct contradiction of his alarm at the cases he was asked to consider.

The Libération editorial says whatever else the Mediator case may teach us, it is clear that the links between the drug industry, the medical profession and the authorities here in France are too close to assure real protection for the average patient.

Le Monde's main headline warns that the extreme right-wing National Front is eating into the regular right-wing electorate. To put things in perspective, the National Front is for citizens who share the enlightened views of the Le Pen family on such issues as foreigners, coloured people and homosexuals, all of whom should be banned.

Very worryingly, 22 per cent of French voters questioned in a recent opinion poll said they agree with the ideas of the National Front, which means huge potential losses for the regular right in next year's elections, and suggests that the current government's security policy has scared the middle classes so much that they now want an even heavier hand.

It's enough to make you grow a beard!

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