French press review 12 June 2014

5 min

There's nothing simple about the world represented on this morning's French front pages. Mostly, there's football, and that's either a festival or a fiasco, depending on which paper you read. But there's also Iraq, as holy warriors take over the northern oilfields. And French strikes mean rail services suspended and theatres closed, both disputes driven by workers who say they're trying to protect jobs.


Right-wing Le Figaro gives the honours to the strikers who are "defying the government", according to the conservative paper's main headline.

Le Figaro’s editorial says France must either reform or perish but that millions of decent, God-fearing, tax-paying, Figaro-reading French families are being held hostage by a few disgruntled trade unionists who are determined to resist all change, however necessary.

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The national rail system is in debt to the tune of 40 billion euros and has ordered trains that are too wide for existing stations. The pampered employees, many of whom can retire on full pensions while still strapping youths of 50, are against any talk of reform, for fear, if we can believe Le Figaro, that any interference in a sector frozen in a different century might erode their privileges.

The paper wants the government to have the courage to stand up to the pressure against change but suspects that we'll see yet another embarrassing climbdown, which will pave the way for yet more.

Le Monde looks to Iraq, where the home town of Saddam Hussein has now fallen into the hands of “jihadists”, Sunni rebels who control the oil installations of northern Iraq and are less than 80 kilometres from the capital, Baghdad. The national army was last seen running southwards.

Apart from the immediate threat to national stability, the activities of the Islamist fighters will ultimately strengthen the political position of the northern Kurds, the only other organised military force in northern Iraq. The likely fate of the Shia regime of Nuri al-Maliki is much less clear.

Maliki has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to ensure that Sunni plans for regional domination are kept down. But the same Maliki can't protect his own people. Russia supports Iran and Syria; Washington is against Syria, a bit, and against terrorist insurgents a lot, which doesn't help Maliki much. Europe has chosen to hear no evil, see no evil and say nothing at all.

Le Monde's editorial ends by reminding us that America invaded Iraq in the name of the war against Islamist terrorism in 2003. Eleven years later, jihadism triumphs, taking over the ruins. It's a disaster for Washington, says Le Monde, a continuing tragedy for the people of Iraq and of Syria and a growing menace for the rest of us.

Which is the perfect cue for football, and the 20th World Cup which kicks off this evening in Brazil.

Click here for our coverage of Brazil World Cup 2014

Sports daily L'Equipe stresses the obvious, telling us that the four-year wait is over.

Libération is none too happy, with a main headline welcoming a "sad samba". The left-leaning daily wonders if the football fever unleashed by the competition will ease the pain of a nation which has seen the advances of the Lula presidency overtaken by the global recession.

The signs are positive: 60 per cent of the three million tickets so far sold have been bought by Brazillians. Probably not by any of the estimated seven million who live in the nation's slums. A taxi driver in Rio says his compatriots are perfectly capable of enjoying the football festival while keeping the pot of social discontent on the boil.

That may be what the headline writer at communist L'Humanité had in mind when he wrote "Passion, rebellion, togetherness: in Brazil it all comes back to the ball."

Like it or loathe it, the ball will keep rolling until 13 July.

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