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French Press Review 17 February 2011

Reuters
5 min

As Nicolas Sarkozy would happily tell you for nothing, politics is a funny old game.

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Take the front page of this morning's Catholic daily, La Croix. They report that certain sectors of the French public service - notably, justice, security, education and health - are functioning only because retired professionals agree to continue working. This after months of bitter protests and street battles by French workers defending their right to retire early.

There are nearly 6,000 retired doctors still practising; retired teachers get 20 euros per hour for replacing their not-yet-retired - but frequently sick - colleagues; 2,200 former police officers are still helping out in the war against crime, with retired judges presiding over the trials of the criminals those retirees catch.

Of course, we long ago moved on from the retirement debate. The current political whipping boys are the taxation of the rich and the indiscretions of the foreign minister.

Yesterday, President Sarkozy said he wanted to see the complete abolition of the so-called Solidarity Wealth Tax, an effort to force the well-heeled to share with the shoeless.

This came as a surprise to the members of the president's party in the National Assembly. They thought they were just going to adjust the law, not abandon it completely.

Let's be reasonable, there are general elections to be lost and won here in France next year, and you can't beat a bit of well-heeled financial support to boost the campaigning coffers. As Voltaire famously remarked on his deathbed when asked to abjure the devil, this is no time to be making enemies.

Speaking of which, Sarko has been savaged by the left for his latest efforts to represent the rich.

If he does away with both the Solidarity Tax and caps the taxation of the extremely wealthy - two projects currently under active discussion and with strong presidential support - then he will have to find nearly three billion euros to replace the lost revenue in the state coffers.

Meanwhile, communist l'Humanité is in fightin' form. The headline reads "power and money", and you'll know that communists don't approve of either of those items separately, and they really hate them when combined.

The source of this morning's anger are what the paper calls "the repeated lies" by the Foreign Affairs Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who has been having a bit of trouble recently because of her friends, her family and her holidays.

The holidays were in the old Tunisia of Ben Ali, the friends were business associates of the now-disgraced former president, and the family were mum and dad Alliot-Marie, both in their nineties, but sharp enough to have snapped up an entire property company in Tunisia, apparently at a bargain price, just before the lid blew off the pot.

Left-wing Libération is beating the same drum, calling the minister a "calamity," suggesting that she is straining the solidarity of the ruling majority but still has the support of Sarkozy.

The problem, according to Libé, is that her clear involvement with the losers in the Tunisian struggle has completely undermined France's capacity to speak objectively on the tidal wave of protest which continues to sweep the Arab world.

Libé happily points out that Ahmed Ounais, the foreign minister in the Ghannouchi government in Tunis, has been forced to resign for describing Madame Alliot-Marie as "a friend of Tunisia." How long Tunisia's friend will remain France's top diplomat remains to be seen.

Elsewhere, Le Figaro reports on the collapse of a cliché. We used to use the phrase "a dog's life" to mean hard times. But with the opening of a new hotel in the swish Paris suburb of Vincennes, the life of the dog has moved up a notch or two.

An enterprising chap by the name of Stan Burun, who is an expert on animal behaviour when he has nothing better to do, decided that the French capital should follow the lead of New York and Tokyo by having its own five-star establishment for man's best friend.

And so Stan opened a 220 square metre luxury establishment for the canine class, complete with piped classical music, televisions, paintings and stylish furnishings.

Well-heeled owners of hounds, who do not wish to leave their beloved beasts to the tender mercies of a common boarding kennel, or the possibly erratic kindness of a neighbour, can now lodge the crayturs "chez Stan", safe in the knowledge that said beasts will be fed and cosseted to a high degree. Fido will have the use of a games room, a massage parlour and will be taken for bracing hikes in the nearby Bois de Vincennes.

For this, Fido's loving master will pay between 35 and 45 euros per night, the price varying with Fido's size - a Pekinese costing less to feed than, say, a Norwegian elkhound.

What the French capital's population of homeless humans think about a dog hotel at that, or any price, is not recorded by Le Figaro.

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