French press review 1 April 2014

Two men share the six French front pages this morning . . . they are, of course, the president, François Hollande, and the new prime minister, Manuel Valls.

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Le Monde has the president trapped in the jaws of a historic defeat; catholic La Croix says he has changed the director, but not the direction.

Right-wing Le Figaro says the struggling president has played his last card in nominating Valls; communist L'Humanité says this appointment is simply adding insult to injury, since it reinforces the incomprehensible logic of the socialist president's policy shift to the right. With the responsibility pact still struggling to take its first breath, we now have to cope with its twin brother, the solidarity pact, which is intended to boost education, increase the social security emphasis on health, and bring down the tax bill.

You'll note that in all this, there hasn't been a whisper about the 50 billion euros the state has to save over the next three years to save us from having to mortgage the kitchen sink.

Popular Aujourd'hui en France says Valls is now in the front line of a slimmed down fightin' government; left-leaning Libération is the only French daily to mention the man who was sacked yesterday, having been at the helm for the past twenty-two months, and they only do that because of an easy joke. The Libé headline reads "Ayrault's last waltz," with a dubious play on the name of the former Interior Minister (waltz-Valls).

What can we say about the new man?

He's popular. With a 46 per cent approval rating, he's by far the government figure with the least tarnished profile. Valls was in the 60 per cent bracket until his recent tough stand on the Dieudonné antisemitism affair, which seems to have alienated a certain number of young voters.

The Greens don't like him. The two ecology ministers in the out-going government have said they won't be part of a cabinet run by Valls. He will need to find a few Green defectors to bolster the socialist majority in parliament, especially with the European elections on the near horizon. The ecologists did very well in 2009, finishing just behind the socialists. This time they probably hope to reverse the finishing order in Europe.

Valls is popular with many on the political right, who see him as tough on security, immigration and crime. But that has obviously cost him a certain amount of street cred with the left end of the socialist spectrum. And, sadly, the bearded believers in social justice and a brave new world are already troubled by the president's advances into the marshy lands of social democracy..

Valls is ambitious, energetic and a real political animal. He knows that his personal future depends on a good showing in the new job. If he manages to save France along the way, so much the better for all of us.

Not that I would wish to put a damper on the new man's enthusiasm, but the French national overdraft for last year has just been calculated to the nearest centime by the national accounting body. France spent 4.3 per cent more than it managed to produce in 2013. The government had promised to get the overspend down to 4.1 per cent, which makes the related promises to lower national indebtedness even more by 2015 look increasingly less likely to turn into anything like fiscal reality.

In case you think that the difference between 4.3 and 4.1 per cent isn't all that significant, you should remember that the national debt at the end of last year was 1,925 billion euros, and 0.2 per cent of that will buy an awful lot of popcorn.

A young man was radar controlled traveling at 252.454 kilometres per hour yesterday, in the western French region of the Upper Alps. Needless to say, he was Italian. He wasn't driving, and he won't be going to jail for his outrageous performance. In fact, he earns a world title. Because Simone Origone did it all on skis.

At the famous Chabrières slope in the Vars, some parts of it with fall of 98 per cent, Simone beat his own world record which has stood since 2006.

He said the snow wasn't very good on Monday, and thinks he can go faster.

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