French press review 17 December 2011

The papers are dominated by the recession facing the French economy as the country prepares for presidential elections.

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Saturday’s papers report that the French government is in a posture of damage control after Fitch Ratings revised its long-term outlook of France's triple-A rating of its debt management, from stable to negative. This coupled with Thursday’s announcement by the French statistics agency Insee that the country is and will be in recession up till the first quarter of next year sparked strange reactions from the government.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

French Prime Minister François Fillon and his Finance Minister François Baroin rushed to say that the French economy was in better shape than Britain's. The remarks drew a sharp rebuke from British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who warned against lurches into xenophobia and chauvinism.

Most papers stress that the cross-Channel row came in the heels of a dramatic clash at last week’s EU summit when British Prime Minister David Cameron refused to join members of the eurozone currency bloc in a new fiscal pact sponsored by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy later accused Cameron of behaving like "an obstinate kid" during the negotiations and later boasted of leading the EU in saying "no to the English".

Le Figaro takes up the war of words waged by Paris and London, raising the concerns of the Europeans that the acid exchanges could seriously undermine efforts to reform the European treaties.

The clumsy remarks by Paris are in line with an ongoing campaign by ruling party spin doctors that a down-grade of France’s triple-A would not be a cataclysm. Libération claims that the question now is not about whether France’s triple-A is in danger but how the country will cope with recession.

The left-leaning paper warns that the recession will be an election trap and wonders if it is Sarkozy who stands to benefit from it or his challengers, Socialist front-runner François Hollande, centrist François Bayrou, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon or Green flag-bearer Eva Joly.

Le Monde reexamines the suspended jail sentence handed down to former French president Jacques Chirac on Thursday. Now aged 79, Chirac was found guilty of influence peddling, breach of trust and embezzlement. The charges dating back to the 1990s when Chirac was mayor of Paris relate to the creation of fake jobs estimated to have cost taxpayers an estimated 1.4 million euros.

The verdict makes Chirac France's first ex-president to be convicted for his crimes. Le Monde holds that the historic condemnation and mounting allegations facing the current French leader reopen the debate in France on the judicial status of the head of the state..

Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France highlights the big departure for Christmas holidays.
The points of concern to the popular Parisian newspaper are the messy conditions under which holiday-makers are travelling in: low morale, problematic train schedules and airport strikes, all aggravated by torrential rains, storms and heavy snowfall.

Also looking ahead for Christmas, the Catholic daily La Croix sent reporters out to Garche Hospital, France’s top neurological reference facility in the western suburbs of Paris. The investigative report titled “One day, one place and the cross”, offers an inside view of the lives and experiences of hundreds of “combatants”, who will not be home for Christmas, the terminally ill patients admitted there and the warn-hearted healthworkers taking care of them.

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