French press review 21 February 2013

The French are not a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings. It's official, and it's the main story in two of today's Paris papers.


The reason for the debate is a letter from the boss of Titan, the American company which produces under licence for the Goodyear tyre manufacturer, to French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg, in which Mr Titan Goodyear says, and I quote, "French staff work three hours per day . . . they take an hour for breaks and and hour for lunch, they talk for three hours."

"Do you think we're that stupid?" he asks à propos of the possibility of his company taking over a Goodyear factory  that's set to close in northern France. 

To which Minister Montebourg replies: "Your comments are ignorant, insulting and extremist. Let me remind you that Titan, the company you direct, is 20 times smaller than French world-leader Michelin and 35 times less profitable."

The background to the exchange is the sad fate of Goodyear's plant at Amiens, in the French north-west, set to close with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

Tabloid paper, Aujourd'hui en France, adds some statistics to the debate by comparing French labour costs with those of some European neighbours and the Americans.

The figures suggest that the French are not less hard-working than the European average. In fact, they beat the Germans, the English, the Swedes and the Dutch.

The French are less well paid than the Germans but they are considerably more productive than their neighbours on the other side of the Rhine. For every 31 euros you pay a French worker, he produces 45 euros, that's three euros more than the better-paid German.

Of course, there's no legal minimum wage in Germany, a situation which makes the French 9.43 euros per hour look fairly royal.

Union representatives at the Goodyear plant in Amiens admit that there have been productivity problems but they blame management. They would, wouldn't they?

Italian workers earn less, work less and produce less than their French counterparts. And they've got a general election this weekend.

"Italy sick of Monti's misery" is a rough translation of the main headline in communist daily, l'Humanité.

Austerity is the big gripe, with corruption in high places and the very survival of a unified Italy the side issues in this election.

Poor old Mario Monti is likely to get his marching orders, despite sterling work which has seen the peninsular economy go from junk status to near respectability under his 15-month stewardship.

The latest opinion polls give him between 12 and 15 per cent of votes next Sunday.

Which means the battle is likely to come down to a face-off between the centre-left of Pier Luigi Bersani and the right championed by my old mate, Silvio Bungasconi.

Reelection for Berlusconi would, according to most commentators, be an unmitigated disaster for Italy, Europe and the wider universe.Which doesn't mean he won't get a greasy paw or two on the levers of power when the post-election dust settles.

Perhaps potentially more serious is the threat by the right-wing Northern League to hive off the three richest and most productive Italian regions to form a sort of semi-autonomous mega-region, which will attempt to negotiate directly with both Rome and the European authorities in Brussels.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Le Figaro is worried about the management structure at the new national investment bank here in France, an institution due to hold its inaugural meeting later today.

The right-wing paper wonders if there won't be a conflict of interest between local politicians like Ségolène Royal and Jean-Paul Huchon, who are in charge of the operation. Will they be tempted to give the green light to investment projects which will, temporarily, save local communities but make no sense in the global market place? It's a reasonable question.

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