French press review 11 March 2013

The second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident is the main story in three of this morning's French dailies.


Le Monde's headline is the thought provoking "We are still not ready to imagine the unimaginable".

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The quote comes from an interview with the director of the French institute for nuclear security. He says the one crucially important lesson from Fukushima is that engineers and those who design safety systems have got to start from the assumption that the worst will certainly happen, someday.

Instead of building nuclear reactors with a "reasonable" margin of error, we have to accept the extra expense involved in making them "excessively" safe. That lesson has not yet been accepted by governments, by the power companies nor by the people who design and build nuclear equipment. The emphasis, for this expert, is still on cost effectiveness, and that's a way of guaranteeing the next disaster.

Libération, with a main headline reading "The Atom Hangs On", looks at the enduring appeal of nuclear energy, despite the shadow of Fukushima. There are currently 437 reactors bubbling away around the world, 100 of them in the United States alone, with France in second place with nearly 60. Sixty-six new ones are currently in construction, China leading that particular race with 28 nuclear building sites.

La Croix looks at the "Wounds of Fukushima", especially the uncertain fate of the 315,000 people who are still living as refugees, having been forced from their homes by the catastrophe. They claim to be the victims of a political struggle in Tokyo which is slowing the supply of cash intended for decontamination and reconstruction.

Right wing Le Figaro devotes its main headline to the French president, François Hollande, plumbing record depths of unpopularity in the opinion polls after ten months in the top job.

It is worth noting that just how unpopular Hollande actually is depends on who's asking the question.

Currently, there's a seven point gap between Hollande's lowest rating (in a poll carried out for the very right wing Le Figaro Magazine) and his least worst (in the populist Paris Match). Nonetheless, the president is off for a couple of days to meet the people of France in an effort to get his popularity curve around the corner.

Le Figaro sees this as another ploy by a man who insists on smiling as the national ship sinks with all hands on board. While leaders across Europe insist on the need for effort, sacrifice and a further tightening of belts already straining the old continent's bony hips, Hollande bides his time and 'ems and 'aws.

France, trumpets Le Figaro, needs a leader of Churchillian mettle and a regime based on blood, sweat and tears. Hollande has nothing to lose in jettisoning the broken idols of socialist utopianism, because even the socialists have started to turn against him. He should start telling the truth, and this two-day meet and greet would be a good place to begin.

Business daily Les Echos has the French prime minister trying to shave a further five billion euros off ministerial budgets already pared to the bone. Even if he manages to find places to make further cuts, says Les Echos, the government is still going to have to cut social welfare spending and increase taxes.

Tabloid Aujourd'hui en France meanwhile claims that the French government is going to be forced by the European Commission to pay back nine billion euros in illegal taxation and unwarranted subventions. The national ship is not just sinking, there's a typhoon on the horizon too.

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