French press review 8 March 2012

The failure of the upcoming French election to grab voter's attention, the not-unexpected news that French woman still face a considerable 'glass ceiling' at work and civil rights in Mauritania are some of the stories making headlines.


At least Le Figaro and La Croix seem to have taken on board the implications of recent opinion polls showing that two-thirds of the French feel their eyes glazing over at the mere mention of the words "presidential" and "election".

Le Figaro thus gives pride of place to the work at Fukushima, the damaged Japanese nuclear reactor where 3,000 workers have begun the task of cleaning up the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The work is dangerous, difficult and delicate, and is likely to take 40 years to complete. Most of the crucial effort, like removing the still molten and highly radioactive hearts of the three reactors which burst their casings, has never been attempted before.

Catholic La Croix looks at the fact that women continue to be paid less than men - the average gap is estimated at 25 per cent - despite the popularity of laws aimed at redressing the balance. The so-called glass ceiling remains a reality.

The rest of this morning's French dailies try to vary the election angles.

Left-wing Libération looks at Socialist promises to reform the way the French police collect information. The idea of policing the police is not new, but it's not easy to manage either.

Popular tabloid Aujourd'hui en France asks how the French presidential hopefuls are viewed outside France, underlining the fact that the race for the Elysée Palace is not without consequences beyond the national borders.

In Germany, Sarko is well known as Angela Merkel's loyal supporter in matters of austerity; François Hollande has said he wants to renegotiate the whole monetary machine. But most Germans have been shocked by Sarko's recent swerves towards the far right. They have good historical reasons to fear extreme-right thinking.

The Americans are more interested in their own presidential struggle. In the United Kingdom, Sarko is popularly renowned as the husband of cute Carla Bruni. And in China, they don't like change, even if it means a move to the left.

Le Monde's front page editorial is headlined "The debate on immigration brushed under the presidential carpet".

The centrist paper regrets that, between President Sarkozy, with his rabble-rousing promise to halve the number of immigrants, and Socialist challenger, François Hollande, with his vague talk of selective immigration, a crucial question which should be at the heart of the leadership debate has been reduced to a series of embarrassing confusions.

France needs an immigration policy, says Le Monde, and it's a difficult subject to face up to. The mainstream candidates have left the field open to Marine Le Pen of the National Front, and have, as a result, been forced into nonsensical exchanges on the way the beasts that provide the meat most of us eat are slaughtered.

In a country with nearly three million immigrants, the obvious failure of integration is a crucial social problem. It won't go away. And the next French president will have to make that failure one of his principal concerns.

Perhaps there's more going on behind the scenes in Mauritania than we know about, but it's surprising to read in Le Monde that the Mauritanian parliament on Tuesday passed a series of constitutional amendments, one of which makes it illegal to organise or participate in a coup d'état.

You would have thought existing legislation would have covered that sort of thing. There can't be too many states which give constitutional recognition to the right to overthrow the government.

The same sitting of the parliament in Nouackhott also made slavery illegal, confirmed the multi-ethnic nature of Mauritanian society, and made the prime minister answerable to the elected representatives of the people.

Le Monde also reports that Singapore's "silent army", the estimated 200,000 female domestic workers who look after menial tasks while their masters make lots of money, have finally been granted the legal right to one day off every week.

Human Rights Watch has long campaigned on behalf of the poorly paid, often ill-treated and totally marginalised women, many of whom are no better than slaves.

Earning an average of 350 euros per month, they have to pay their employers a security deposit of 2,300 euros to ensure their loyalty.

Should a domestic worker become pregnant, she can be summarily dismissed, and her former employer can keep the deposit. Normal Singaporean labour law does not apply to immigrant domestic staff.

The new regulations will come into effect in January, 2013.

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