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French press review 11 March 2011

5 min

Disgruntled workers and ailing bees make an appearance alongside the Future of Africa in this morning's papers.


While the world goes to hell on a handcart, business daily Les Echos publishes an opinion poll! Not about who supports the extreme right National Front, not about whether France should invade Libya. No. This enquiry asked workers what they think about their bosses, the crisis and the amount of money everybody gets for getting out of bed of a morning.

The results are even more predictable than most opinion polls. People want more money, are afraid of losing their jobs, and are stressed up to the eyeballs. Seventy per cent of those questioned say they believe the worst of the economic crisis is still to come. Four in 10 expect to spend time on the dole in the next few years. Clearly, a cheerful bunch!

Then there's Libya. France says it is ready to support a policy of "surgical strikes" to help those who are fighting to overthrow Colonel Moamer Kadhafi. Surgical strikes sound almost civilised, but the expression simply means bombing the be-jaysus out of parts of Libya that don't have oil fields or other installations likely to be of interest to France when the fighting stops.

Right-wing Le Figaro celebrates the French recognition of the forces opposing Kadhafi; leftist Libération says Sarko has surprised his European partners by taking the initiative and proposing to bring military muscle to bear on the Libyan situation. Having been weeks too late in responding to the Tunisian crisis, France clearly wants to lead the charge this time. But where's the new foreign minister, Alain Juppé, in all this? Like earlier holders of the post, he's somewhere in the president's wake. And it's all cynical anyway, says Libé, since it's just another effort by Sarkozy to refloat his badly leaking campaign for re-election in 2012.

Morocco's king, Mohammed VI, gets the big treatment from Libération. The headline "The King's Speech" was too good to miss, especially since this particular Oscar-nominated performance looks as if it might be the first step on the road to transforming Morocco into a parliamentary democracy. Mohammed has clearly been watching the television news recently, and wants to pre-empt any moves by the common people to dislodge a dynasty that has ruled the north African nation since the seventeenth century. Mohammed himself, who looks a bit rough in Libé's photograph, a bit like a Munster front row forward after a punch in the mouth in extra time, is rated by Forbes magazine as the seventh richest monarch in the world – which sounds like the sort of fortune that makes a few quiet words on the telly seem a wise investment.

Libération also has a story about bees, the winged creatures whose unpaid efforts in pollinating the world's crops are estimated to be worth 110 billion dollars every year. Three quarters of the food we eat depends on the work of bees for its existence. The problem is that the planet's bees are not doing well. The bee population is down by 85 per cent in Asia, by 30 per cent in the United States, and by at least 10 per cent in Europe. No one knows why. Pesticides, pollution, mobile phones are all suspected of contributing to the decline of the fuzzy little flyers, but their rapid decline remains a mystery. Now the United Nations has sounded the alarm, warning that a serious global effort needs to be made to save the bee unless we all want to have to hang up our wings.

"The future of Africa is being decided in Côte d'Ivoire." That's the headline to Le Monde's front-page editorial. It's an exaggeration, of course, but it does provide food for thought.

No fewer than 18 African nations are due to hold presidential polls this year. A few of the candidates for re-election seem to have been around since the creation of the world. Le Monde's basic argument is that Laurent Gbagbo is a bad example, a chap who believes in democracy and free and fair elections, only if said elections produce the correct result by ensuring Gbagbo's grasp on power. Why should people bother voting if they know that the loser can claim victory or take it by force?

If Gbagbo eventually wins, it will be a victory for brutality over democracy, says Le Monde.

But where does that leave Alassane Ouattara, the official winner of the Ivorian vote, afraid to leave his hotel in Abidjan, whimpering that he needs outside intervention to help him rule the country he's supposed to govern? Who will respect a president who has called on the former colonial power to send soldiers to enforce his mandate? Le Monde calls for an African solution to the problem, without analysing the possible impact on regional stability of intervention by the African Union, which would effectively mean an invasion by Nigeria's armed forces.

On an inside page, the centrist paper assures us that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spent 34 million euros on his girlfriends last year alone. That's a lot of money, even for a chap with smooth Silvio's reputation. But the figure of 34 million euros is repeated in the small print, as is the fact that it covers only the calendar year 2010. In detail, we learn that Il Cavaliere spent 120,000 euros on "accessories" for his friend Ruby, whose age at the start of their friendship may send Berlusconi to jail, as well as 650,000 on antiques and works of art. The Italian head of state shelled out a further 562,000 euros for 14 girls who took part in parties at his private villa. All that adds up to less that one and a half million, even with big tips, so what happened to the remaining 32.5 million sponduliks?

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