French press review 07 January 2013

Plenty of variety, but not much good news, on this morning's French front pages.


Both left-wing Libération and centrist Le Monde give pride of place to Syria, Libé saying President Bashar al-Assad's weekend "peace proposals" show a man determined to hold onto power at whatever cost in terms of repression.

Le Monde wonders if 2013 might see the end of the Assad regime and asks what that is likely to cost in human terms. The UN currently puts the number of dead at 60,000 but, tragically, that's probably an underestimate.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The centrist daily notes that the rate at which people are dying has increased dramatically in recent weeks, especially since insurgents took control of the military academy near Aleppo. The weapons captured after that battle have boosted rebel fighting capacities but that has also provoked a murderous reaction by the Assad airforce and armoured divisions.

This year could see Assad finally deposed, but the same international divisions which have allowed the war to continue could lead to the emergence of what Le Monde calls a Middle Eastern Somalia, ravaged by rival militia groups, answerable to nobody. The implications for the whole volatile region, and the Sunni-Shia divide, are difficult to calculate but leave little room for optimism.

The debate about who should be allowed to get married in France has now spilled into the nation's schools.

This is because Education Minister Vincent Peillon has warned Catholic schools against organising debates on the question of marriage for homosexuals. Catholic schools, like those run by other religious groups, are private but part-financed by the state and are strictly obliged to respect individual freedom of conscience.

Right-wing Le Figaro worries that the marriage-for-all debate could be used by the government as a way of further eroding the position of French private schooling.

Then there's communist L'Humanité, with a call for foreigners to be allowed vote in local elections.

"We live here, we work here, we should be allowed to vote here," reads the headline. François Hollande promised to give foreigners the vote when he was campaigning for election but appears to have forgotten that promise since.

The next local elections are due in France in 2014. An estimated 1.8 million foreign voters are currently excluded from registering for those polls.

Business daily Les Echos says the 75 per cent income tax rate promised by the president, proposed by the government and thrown out by the Constitutional Council, will not be easy to correct.

Among the possibilities being considered, says Les Echos, are a lower rate which would be permanently imposed on the well-to-do. The rejected 75 per cent proposal was a short-term measure, intended to last only two years. The well-to-do may well wish they had done less by the time the whole sorry story comes to an end.

Famous formerly French actor and current 75-per-cent refugee Gérard Depardieu is to be seen on several front pages, proudly displaying his new Russian passport. Depardieu tried to become a Belgian citizen. If Le Figaro is to be believed, he could now become a Russian regional government minister!

An article in the Le Monde's weekend supplement asks what's likely to happen to the world population over the next 40 years.

It's going to get bigger, that's for sure, especially in Africa and India, with the Indian sub-continent expected to overtake China as the globe's most populous nation by 2060. But the human race is also going to get older. That's a problem. Or rather, a whole series of problems.

Currently in Europe, for example, there are 46 economically inactive people for every 100 who are in paid employment. By 2050 the number of dependents will have risen to 78 for every 100 wage earners.

That means more expenditure on pensions, medical care, hospitalisation, home help and all the other "disadvantages" of an ageing population. In Africa the number of dependents will actually decline over the next four decades, from the current 80 per cent to less than 60 per cent in 2050.

Africa will also see the most remarkable population growth, with a doubling of the number of Africans to more than two billion by 2050. At that stage Africa will be home to nearly one quarter of the entire human family.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the projected figures represent both a challenge and a triumph . . . a triumph for medicine, a challenge for the social services. Currently, according to Le Monde, only 28 per cent of the global population has access to anything like a reasonable social security system.

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