French press review 28 January 2015

After two days of front pages dominated by slippery Greeks and unpaid debts, France’s editors have finally decided to vary our news intake. Several look at the country's own economic woes, following the publication of yet more record unemployment figures.


Not that the Greeks have gone very far away.

Conservative paper Le Figaro sees its worst fears confirmed in the nomination of what it calls "a combat cabinet" by the new Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, with the key positions occupied by political novices, "university professors and left-wing economists", laments Le Figaro, low-lifes renowned for their opposition to either Europe in general or paying back Europe's money in particular. Only one member of the new government team has previous ministerial experience.

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Le Figaro's main story is much closer to home and much darker.

"A black year for French unemployment," reads the headline, with the details explaining that the number of people out of work is now very close to a tragic all-time record of three and a half million. 2014 was the fourth worst year for job losses in France since 1997.

Le Figaro’s editorial on what the right-wing paper calls "A French nightmare," recycles quite a lot of the rhetoric used to describe Greece over the past few mornings. Today we read about "a country adrift, drowning in debt and deficits, gasping for growth, its businesses dying from slow asphyxiation”. The capital presiding over such horrors is Paris, not Athens.

The culprits are quickly identified by a Figaro which denies any tendency to "French-bashing," settling for a decent bout of Socialist-bashing instead. Our sacrosanct social model is revealed for what it truly is, fulminates Le Figaro, "a disastrous machine for creating dole queues".

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And the Macron law, currently being debated at the National Assembly and promoted by the government as the bright light at the end of the economic tunnel, will only make things worse, always assuming it manages to limp through parliament unscathed. For the conservative daily, this is another half-measure, in the wake of the failed responsibiliuty pact with the employers, and of an interminable series of pointless negotiations with the social partners.

To win the battle against unemployment, says Le Figaro, what are required are structural changes of a totally different scale to any imagined by the blinkered bad guys in the current Socialist administration. Get rid of the 35-hour week, make it easier to sack surplus employees, stop dreaming that 60 is a reasonable retirement age . . . there are Socialists who appreciate the economic logic of such changes, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Macron at economy but, laments the conservative editorial, they dare not hint at such deviations from socialist orthodoxy without being called to heel by the baying masses in the trade unions and the rebel ranks of their own government team.

Communist L'Humanité agrees that mass unemployment is far from being inevitable but the communist paper's solutions bear no resemblance to those promoted by Le Figaro.

Make the employers pay for social insurance, says L'Huma, thus giving the workers the spending power to get the economy moving again, so that the employers can start taking on more workers to cope with increased demand. It sounds good but what if the increased spending power is frittered away on US smartphones, Japanese cars and Taiwanese tellies? And there should be more investment at local level, says L'Humanité, since infrastructure is always needed and building is a great way of soaking up the unemployed. Except that infrastructure is expensive and has to be paid for by somebody. Worse, current labour regulations mean that an awful lot of sub-contractors are forced to find their workers on the black market, a situation which helps the workers a little and the employment figures not at all.

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Catholic La Croix gives the front-page honours to the recent defeat of the Islamic State armed group in the Syrian city of Kobane. It took four months to wrest control of the ruins of Kobane from the fundamentalists and La Croix warns that winning this battle does not mean the end of the war. Far from it, says the Catholic daily, the fact that Kobane was liberated by Kurdish fighters means that Turkish nightmares of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq are now a step closer to reality. Which will increase Ankara's ambivalence in the fight against the Islamists.


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