French weekly magazines review 17 May 2015


If there is one dominant subject on the French weeklies' front pages, it's surely the debate surrounding attempts by the education minister to reform the secondary education system. Then there's the president's girlfriend, Julie Gayet, and an opinion poll suggesting that the French are fed up with politicians.


Le Figaro Magazine gives its front cover to Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and President François Hollande, describing the couple as "The wreckers of the French school". The right-wing supplement has calmed down about the incidental decline of the importance of Latin and Greek - subjects taken by only a tiny minority of the nation's college students anyway - and sinks its teeth into the meat of a reform which, we are told, threatens to undermine the republic by changing the way history is taught.

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What's the problem?

The Figaro weekly is scandalised that the Enlightenment and the Renaissance are going to be relegated to the optional category, while the birth of Islam becomes obligatory.

Instead of praising the minister for attempting to bring different civilisations into the classroom, where ignorant antipathies might be reduced by debate and mutual comprehension, Le Figaro Magazine accuses Vallaud-Belkacem of reacting to tensions in contemporary French society by reducing the history of relations around the Mediterranean basin to a series of more-or-less benign cultural exchanges. What about the Crusades, wails Le Figaro, or slavery, or piracy, or the original holy wars? You can't plaster over the fact that Muslims and Christians have been at one anothers' throats for centuries, says the conservative magazine, especially when that cultural divide is so gapingly obvious to those of us who live in the era of the home-made holy warrior.

The teaching of history, concludes Le Figaro, cannot be reduced to the expression of any ideological prejudice. Pushing the Christian heritage and European humanism to the fringes to create space for the Muslim world is therefore a very bad thing. If Christianity and humanism are themselves "ideological prejudices", at least they are our own.

Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné notes that the debate about educational reform is not just a right-wing affair. The left is also divided on many of the proposed changes and the teaching unions have called for a nationwide strike next Wednesday.

The fact is that the current French school system simply does not work. According to Le Canard Enchaîné, France has the worst teacher-student ratio in western Europe, 15 per cent of students in difficulty with the basic skills, 150,000 drop-outs every year, teachers who earn half the salaries of their German colleagues. Something has to be done.

Instead of using the impetus of the current reform to address the fundamental problems, says Le Canard, the vast majority of commentators have lost themselves in incidental debate and ludicrous jargon, leaving parents, students and the vast majority of teachers, once again, drowning in their wake.

Le Point joins the same debate by asking how the French teaching profession can be saved.

While 94 per cent of the nation's teachers love their job, only five per cent feel that their efforts are recognised by society in general. The average social recognition statistic in the OECD rich nations group is 31 per cent.

Le Point says more money, less bureaucracy and an adherence to a coherent, long-term educational project are among the elements needed to help French professeurs feel better about themselves and the job they do.

In a world fascinated by speed and change, says Le Point, the teacher could, once again, become a crucial factor for stability and confidence.

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L'Express offers a profile of "The mysterious Julie Gayet", the actress who has been known to share an odd early-morning croissantwith the French president.

Gayet is said to be using the Cannes Film Festival, where she has a film in competition, to refocus her image. No longer content to be the very discreet girlfriend of the French leader, she is reasserting her position as a major player in the production of French films.

One small but significant detail: when she wanted tickets for her two children for the Cannes screening of her own film, she applied to the festival office, not to the executive director.

L'Express says the real challenge will be for Gayet to remain independent in a business where huge sums of money - frequently public funds - circulate and where accusations of conflict of interest can do enormous harm.

Marianne says the average French voter is fed up with the trio Hollande/Le Pen/Sarkozy. The headline reads "Get lost!"

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Basing its claims on an exclusive opinion poll, Marianne assures us that half the electorate is sick of the three personalities who have dominated the French political scene for the past decade. Forty-one per cent of those questioned said they would vote for none of the three in the first round of the 2017 presidential election, suggesting that we're going to see record levels of abstention.

The problem, laments Marianne, is that democracy is suffering in the struggle between these egos.

Le Nouvelle Observateur devotes its front page to "The stained honour of the French army".

The article is based on an inquiry into the accusations of sexual abuse leveled at some French soldiers serving as peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Not the official inquiry, which has struggled for nearly 12 months to identify the individuals mentioned in a UN report, but an inquiry by two French journalists who have managed to find many supposed victims but no real news.

The French soldiers have moved out of the camp at the centre of the accusations and are being replaced by UN peacekeepers. The children of the neighbouring refugee camp, home of the presumed victims, are still there, still hungry.

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