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French press review 20 June 2013

6 min

The so-called "social partners," that's the government, the unions and the bosses, are due to sit down together later today in Paris for their second annual conference, an attempt to decide how to move forward on crucial questions like jobs, retirement and getting French industry moving again.

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Communist L'Humanité warns that the atmosphere at this year's meeting will be a lot more strained than at the last conference. The communist daily says the past twelve months have been positive for the bosses, less so for the workers, with a net loss of 138,500 jobs in the past year. L'Humanité expects the debate to be loud and angry.

Left-leaning Libération says the unions are caught between an evident need for reform and a desire to protect current benefits. Will they have the courage to make concessions? is the big question. The answer is, probably not. 

Catholic La Croix says pensions are the big question. The catholic daily looks back over fifty years of retirement planning in France, and reveals a system that has practically always been in debt, plunging to an all-time low of nine billion euros in the red at the end of the Sarkozy presidency.

Can the socialists manage a sufficiently meaningful reform to reverse the cash drain and put pension payments on a realistic footing, without having the party explode? Once again, the answer is, probably not.

Just to show how difficult are the sort of social questions to be debated at this conference, Le Monde considers the solidarity scheme put in place four years ago by the right wing Sarkozy administration. The new socialist government kept the idea because they thought it was a good one.

Basically, the very poor get a cash boost while looking for work, or a smaller handout to compensate for accepting low-paid part time employment. Four years down the road, nearly 70  per cent of those who could benefit from the scheme don't even apply, and there's a record level of payment errors. Apparently, the system is so complex that those it is intended to benefit don't know, and those supposed to administer it know even less. A parliamentary report is expected at the end of the month. Then things will get better.

Contrasting front pages for business daily Les Echos and right wing Le Figaro.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

According to Les Echos, the French tax authorities have explained to the government what should be done to encourage French tax exiles to return. The idea is to get a maximum number of nationals to declare their overseas assets before the new and tougher law on financial fraud comes into force. They'll still have to pay outstanding taxes and interest, but will get off relatively lightly in terms of penalties. The state hopes to net an additional 2.5 billion euros through the scheme.

At the other end of the tunnel, Le Figaro laments the departure of increasing numbers of highly qualified young people, educated at enormous expense here in France before departing for the higher salaries and better promotion prospect on offer overseas. I wonder if that'll get a mention later today at the social conference? Probably not.

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