French press review 25 May 2015

The decline in the active membership of French political parties has Le Monde worried. Only the far-right Front National has been able to reverse the trend. How important are women in the Roman Catholic Church? How are the Greeks proposing to pay their debts? And is French justice impartial?

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The main story in Le Monde assures us that paid-up, active membership of the main French political organisations is in steady decline. The Socialist Party and the right-wing UMP are the worst affected but the hard-left Left Front and the Greens have also suffered what Le Monde calls "a severe haemorrhage" of members over the past three years.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Le Monde says many long-term supporters are now questioning the value of a personal engagement in politics. Newcomers to political activism are finding that internet and social networks are far more efficient than the lumbering party machine as a way of organising protests and other events.

Only the Front National, buoyed up by recent electoral successes and by the authority of its leader, Marine Le Pen, has been able to resist the tendency.

It's not a particularly French situation: in Germany the once-powerful social-democratic SPD has seen membership cut by more than half since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The average age of current SPD members is 59.

Catholic La Croix wonders about the place of women in the extremely male Roman Catholic Church.

Despite the increasing involvement of women in pastoral work, the everyday activities of the parish, they remain practically invisible at the decision-making levels of the hierarchy.

According to La Croix, women represent 75 per cent of lay people working for the church at ground level but less than a quarter of those at the upper end of the spectrum. Some bishops are unaware that there's a problem - and that's the problem, says one contributor to the debate.

Women currently contribute hugely to the church's work of spreading and deepening the faith, of building and maintaining interfaith links, of understanding the word of God. Even within the limits imposed by the all-male professional structure of the Catholic Church, says La Croix, more can be done to recognise that effort and redress the balance of power.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The Greeks are, once again, crying wolf. That's the main story in right-wing Le Figaro. "Wolf" is not, in fact, the word, even in Greek. What the Greeks are hollering is "can't pay, won't pay. Give us more money!"

In a slight variation of the trick where you haul yourself airborne by pulling on your bootlaces, the good men in Athens have warned the International Monetary Fund that they will be unable to pay off the June slice of the Greek debt, a matter of 1.7 billion euros, unless the European Union and the very IMF that is already owed a bundle of cash can come up with further loans.

The danger is not that the country will go officially bankrupt if Athens does not meet its debt obligations. That would take a while to bite. The problem is that a run on already fragile Greek banks could leave the government without a leg to stand on and public turmoil as savers try to get their cash to the safety of the nearest mattress.

Deadline day is 5 June.

Left-leaning Libération is worried that French former president Nicolas Sarkozy has not been getting a fair crack of the judicial whip.

Libé is quick to stress that it has no desire to whitewash the UMP leader and potential candidate for reelection in 2017. But the paper has had a chance to read carefully through the file on admitting the content of phone calls between Sarkozy and his chief legal advisor as evidence in a case in which Sarko is accused of abuse of power. Libération says the case raises serious questions about how jthe law operates in France.

The paper is concerned on two counts: in the first case, French law has got to be impartial, whether the case involves a former head of state or any other suspect. Perhaps more importantly, this is the one case that could prove to be a stumbling block on Sarkozy's route back to the presidential palace and is therefore going to be fine-combed by a legal team already convinced that the former president has been the victim of a form of judicial harrassment. They will exploit the smallest infringement of their man's rights. Neither politics nor the law will be served by any unfair special treatment.

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