French press review 18 December 2014

Russia, Cuba, a 70th birthday party, French roads and an increase in violence and bad manners . . . it's hard to believe we're just one week away from Christmas!


US President Barack Obama is at least trying to get into the seasonal spirit, ending half a century of Cold War against Cuba.

This morning's French papers unanimously salute the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana as a turning point. But all take pains to point out that the American embargo remains in place and that's what matters to ordinary Cubans.

It's not a simple question.

Critics of the Castro regime say the economic boost provided by the ending of the commercial blockade would establish the Castro dynasty for generations. That seems to be largely theoretical since, in Washington, the Republican-dominated Congress, the only body which can rescind the 1962 embargo, is unlikely to favour any further warming of ties with Cuba.

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They've got the best, or the worst, of both worlds on the front page of left-leaning Libération, with Vladimir Putin and Raul Castro sharing the space with a headline reading "Russia no, Cuba si," though "Russia niet, Cuba si" might have been better.

The Russain leader's problems are significant, with the world's jittery stock markets reminding us that the imminemt collapse of the Russian economy is bad news for everybody, especially Europe.

Le Monde points out that Putin might have won the military face-off over Crimea and Ukraine but he is certainly not winning the economic arm-wrestle which followed in the form of Western sanctions. And the collapse of global oil and gas prices hasn't helped his position.

France and Germany have supported the Russian leader, urging him to get back on side in the Ukraine conflict: Washington has toughened its stance on the time-honoured principle that you never give the bad guys a break.

Le Figaro's editorial says it is time for Europe to stand up to the the Americans and call for an end to sanctions which could destabilise the entire not-terribly-stable-at-the-best-of times continent for decades.

Dossier: Ebola outbreak 2014

The 70th anniversary is being celebrated at centrist paper Le Monde, which published its first edition on 18 December 1944. The challenge now is to see how Le Monde, like print publications worldwide, can adapt to the challenges and opportunities offered by the digital age. The paper, which normally appears at lunchtime, will shortly launch a morning edition specifically for smartphone users.

The French government sold off the nation's motorways to private companies in 2005. Since then prices for the use of the road system have continued to increase and critics claim that the shareholders are cleaning up, some estimates putting the road companies' profits above 20 per cent. The front page of communist paper L'Humanité offers to explain how the companies continue to hoodwink both the state and the ordinary road user.

The official competition watchdog says the 20 per cent profit margin is a fact. The companies say it's rubbish, that the council is confusing annual income with the return on investment and that when you take into account the 15 billion euros the companies have invested since they took over running the system, their profits are very modest indeed.

The French parliamentary committee which has been looking into the whole affair does not accept the companies' line. The payments to shareholders are exceptionally high and in fact the level of investment was cleverly used by the companies to ensure huge returns to the parent operations.

Catholic La Croix laments the increase in verbal assaults on public servants here in France. The facts come from a report published by the National Delinquancy Observatory. What sort of a nation, you might ask, would establish such an organisation? La Croix says the eceonomic crisis and mass unemployment are major contributing factors, as is the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators get away with it.

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