French press review 21 October 2014

Local political squabbles dominate this morning's French front pages. There's the on-going Aubry affair, provoked by criticism of government economic policy by Martine Aubry, the mayor of the northern French city of Lille and a very popular socialist figure.


The problem is that this underlines the division in socialist ranks on, basically, whether cost-cutting and penny-pinching is the best way to get the French economy going again.

Aubry says president Hollande and prime minister Valls have sold out socialism for a vague form of liberalism. The two lads have said they're not scared, they're sticking to their guns, we're all on bread and water for the foreseeable.

But what the Aubry offensive may crucially do is give the socialist rebels a high-profile leader. The woman herself has been at pains to point out that she's not campaigning for any position herself, just adding her weight to the national debate. But she is, after all, a politician.

Le Monde says Aubry is positioning herself as a left-wing alternative, perhaps with a view to trying to force the current leadership to move a bit to the left. For now, the leadership is publicly welcoming the latest dissident voice.

Yesterday, Manuel Valls said the left has always considered divergent opinions as a positive value. He did, however, admit that too much positivity can be a bit hard on the nerves. He claims his nerves are in good shape.

The prime minister probably hadn't read Le Monde's main story when he said that. The centrist paper reports that, as French industrial decline continues, now the retail sector is starting to lose jobs.

For the past six months, no new sales people have been taken on by businesses anxious to keep prices down and thus reluctant to employ new staff. The retail sector has been the one employment success story in France since 2009, until six months ago.

Communist L'Humanité says it's all the fault of austerity, of a too generous attitude to big business.

Meanwhile in Germany, the high priestess of hardship, Chancellor Mutti Merkel has to decide whether the German economy can survive a threatened recession. She's now talking about increasing investment, which might mean more bread, more water for the rest of us before long.

Catholic La Croix gives pride of place to a new effort to bring peace to the Central African Republic. According to the catholic daily, a group of French intellectuals and religious leaders have arrived in Bangui and will today launch a three-day programme of talks with local figures.

The basic idea is to attempt to come to some understanding of the roots of the violence which has riven the CAR since the former president, François Bozizé, was run out of town by Seleka rebels in March, 2013.

Unfortunately, interim president Catherine Samba-Panza has been unable to impose herself as a peace-maker, and Bangui has recently seen a resurgence of clashes and violent attacks.

Convinced that, in addition to the political and economic elements which explain the Central African Republic's current crisis, there are powerful cultural and religious levers at work as well, the French group hopes to meet as many representatives of CAR society as possible.

Counting among their ranks a pastor, a catholic bishop and an imam, they hope to be able to approach all communities under the banner of benevolent neutrality.

It is hoped that this opportunity to talk openly about the violence will help local religious and community leaders to see the situation in a new light.

Then they will be better placed to bring the message of reconciliation to their own communities. And that may turn out to be the impossible part. But at least somebody is making an effort.

Elections are due to be held in the CAR next February.

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