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French press review 21 January 2011

5 min

Milk that makes you sleep, tax swindles and deliquency. Read all about it in this morning's French papers.


Melatonin is the hormone that makes you go to sleep. There's loads of it in cow's milk. Some German researchers recently discovered that there is 25 times more melatonin in milk taken from cows between the hours of 2 am and 4 am, probably because the poor beasts are more than half asleep at that hour. According to the front page of this morning's Figaro, the same researchers have produced a pill that is crammed with melatonin collected from these sleepy cows, and you can buy a packet of 16 for a mere 25 euros. Now they just need to find workers prepared to get up in the middle of the night in order to do the milking.

Brice Hortefeux is a happy man this morning. He's the French Interior Minister, and he's just announced that delinquency is in decline. For the eighth year in succession, the figures for petty crime are down, by a total of two per cent for the year 2010. Unfortunately, if you have less chance of being murdered than ever before, you are much more likely to be beaten up, have your phone stolen or your apartment broken into – or all three at the same time.

The front page of Libération calls for a revolution in the harsh world of income tax.

Three French economists have just published a book proposing to turn the current tax system on its head, thus reducing the amount that most of us would have to pay. Currently, say the authors, the middle classes pay too much, the poor can't pay anything, and the stinky rich get away with murder because they are able to disguise most of their income as something else.

The book suggests calculating everyone's income in the same way, as the total amount of cash they get their greedy little mits on in the course of a year, whether the boodle comes from the fruits of their labour or the fruits of their investment portfolio. The change would mean that the vast majority of French taxpayers would see their tax bill reduced from 49 per cent at the moment to just 40 per cent, while the top three per cent (the stinky rich) would see their overall level of taxation go from the current average of 32 per cent to 51 per cent. The same amount of tax revenue would pour into the national coffers. And justice would thus be done, say the authors.

Libération is, of course, a left-wing newspaper, and the three authors are out there with Trotsky and the lads. The big question is: will somebody in the shambles that is called the French Socialist Party actually turn the proposals into draft policy? Probably not, I'm afraid.

Yesterday, business daily Les Echos was lamenting the fact that German businesses are so much more competitive than their French counterparts. The problem seems to be that labour costs are so high here in France, businesses can't react to rapid market changes.

This morning, Le Monde devotes its main headline to the reaction of the French bosses. They say they can catch up with the Germans, but only if the government reduces labour costs by between five and 10 per cent. That would cost the French state, at a rough estimate, between 10 and 15 billion euros every year. And there's not much chance of that happening in these dark, crisis-ridden days. So the bosses are proposing an increase in the level of VAT to compensate for the lost revenue. In other words, it could soon become cheaper to produce goods here in France, but nobody will be able to buy the bloody things because of the additional tax slapped on by the government.

Communist l'Humanité is all over the case, with a headline screaming "Swindle".  The communist daily says the comparison of the French and German economies is biased and unfair, and is all part of a plot by government and the lords of industry to squeeze the suffering worker even tighter. L'Humanité offers its own explanation of the Franco-German contrast, pointing out that French industry continues to pay out huge amounts to its well-heeled share holders, but has drastically reduced the level of investment over the past four years. That, says l'Huma, is why the Germans are racing ahead. They spend money on research and development, and go on enhancing their reputation for quality products. The French whinge a lot, and have a global reputation for being on strike.

On a brighter note, the Chinese economy is hunky dory. Last year, China's gross domestic product grew by more than 10 per cent, while Europe was getting excited about point six of a percent.

Le Monde's front page editorial salutes the commercial courage of US President Obama, who has not been afraid of offending his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, this week visiting Washington.

There are plenty of grounds for disagreement: Beijing's insistence on undervaluing the yuan means that Chinese exports cost less, and keep American goods out of the Chinese market. There's the question of industrial piracy, with American firms complaining that their Chinese competitors are ignoring patent and copyright law and simply stealing the results of American research, resulting in rival products which are cheaply mass-produced and dumped on the world market. Then there's the thorny question of human rights, of Taiwan, Tibet, the mad men who run North Korea. Obama and Hu have been talking the talk this week, and it hasn't hurt the order books. Already, the presidential visit has seen the finalising of an agreement by Beijing to buy 200 Boeing aircraft, the largest order ever in the history of civil aviation, part of a total of 45 billion dollars worth of deals.

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