French press review 24 October 2013

China's food needs have worldwide repercussions. The US is accused of listening to Mutti. And there's a look at France's depressing unemployment situation.


China is haunted by its food needs, according to the front page of business daily Les Echos.

There's a real problem, since China has one-fifth of the world's population but only 10 per cent of the arable land. And that population is increasingly shifting to Western dietary fashions, making the People's Republic the world's biggest importer of wheat.

Urban growth is most marked in the east, where the best farmland is, or was, to be found.

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To deal with the situation, the lads in Beijing have been signing deals to lease land in Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia . . . even as far away as Latin America. Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia are among the nations involved, with the chilling fact of potential food shortages in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia making the leasing of national land to a foreign state a major ethical and security problem.

Speaking of ethics and security, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on the front page of right-wing Le Figaro, wondering if Washington has been listening to her personal phone calls.

Barack Obama called her personally, on the very same phone, to assure Mutti that the secret of her recipe for schnitzelwurtz was safe and had not fallen into the hands, or ears, of the National Spying Agency. But Mutti remains suspicious and there are to be further inquiries.

Today will see the publication of France's monthly unemployment figures and they're expected to be bad. Especially since last month the statistics were artificially boosted by a computer error and will this month have to accommodate the correction of that mistake.

Catholic La Croix marks the occasion by organising a debate on employment between a big boss and a tough trade unionist. It turns out a lot better than you might expect with the Laurence Berger, of the CFDT union, and Xavier Hullard, managing director of Vinci, finding lots of common ground, notably on the questions of negotiation and training. But job security seems to mean different things to bosses and workers.

Three trade unions have recently signed a flexibility pact, to enable employers to lower the wage bill during difficult times as long as they don't sack anybody. But, while the bosses think in terms of "jobs", the unions insist that those jobs are done by individual human beings, who have kids to feed, mortages to pay and lives to finance.

"Security is not about contracts," says the union guy, "it's about individuals."

Obviously, disappointing job figures are going to add to the government's problems.

They will also deepen the crisis at the agency supposed to put job-seekers in contact with potential employers. Workers at the government employment agency are typically overworked, stressed out or absent. There have been six suicides this year alone and a 22 per cent increase in sick leave in the two years since 2010. Some agency workers say they find themselves, paradoxically, bhaving their morale raised by their unemployed clients.

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