French press review 4 September 2017


The French newspapers have a distinct, North Korean flavour this morning, as they react to Pyongyang’s recent hydrogen bomb test. On the domestic front, Macron’s upcoming struggle to control the Senate is another talking point, as well as the topsy-turvy policies shaking up France’s education system.


On Sunday North Korean state media announced the country had detonated a hydrogen bomb, just after seismologists picked up a tremor of a 6.3 magnitude in the area of the tests.

Left-leaning Libération dedicates its front page to the crisis, with a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, who it says is a “ticking bomb”.

In its editorial the paper raises some tricky questions.

What if there were method in his madness?

What if playing the role of a dangerous psychopath were the best way for him to keep his regime afloat?

Libération points out that Kim Jung-un has already seen several fellow dictators toppled, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Moamer Kadhafi in Libya, and they did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Two madmen in a room

The North Korean leader might well be applying the “madman theory”, which was an important feature of Richard Nixon’s foreign policy.

He and his administration tried to make hostile countries think he was irrational and volatile, so they would always fear an unpredictable response.

But if this is all just one big bluff, why are we so worried?

Libération says the problem is that facing Kim there is another madman with his finger on the red button, Donald Trump.

So what happens when you put two madmen, or pretend madmen, in a room together?

Right-wing Le Figaro’s analysis goes along the same lines.

Is Kim Jung-un actually insane? Probably not, according to its editorial, or not completely.

He and his father, who ruled the country before him, have always mastered the art of provocation, in order to achieve its ballistic and atomic goals.

But should this rationale behind the apparent escalation reassure us?

Not if you throw Donald Trump in the mix, says Le Figaro.

Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who preferred to ignore the North Korean leader, there’s no way of knowing how the current US president will react.

Macron’s Senate problem

Centrist daily Le Monde's top story is about French President Emmanuel Macron’s upcoming struggle to win a decisive majority in the Senate, which is to renew half of its 348 seats in 20 days.

Le Monde says that he and his strategists had initially gambled on a sweeping victory, in the wake of their landslide win in the general election.

But their plan is now “turning into vinegar”, as the French expression goes.

Unlike MPs, French senators are chosen by an electoral college, which is mainly made up of local councillors. And since 2014 most of them belong to the right-wing party, the Republicans.

Some centrist and independent electors might have been tempted to vote for Macron’s Republic on the Move party a few months back but, according to Le Monde, a lot of them are now worked up against the government’s plans to cut local budgets.

Macron’s party is now hoping to come second behind the Republicans and win about 50 seats.

With their huge majority in the lower chamber, that would give them three-fifths of the vote, which is what they need to pass constitutional reforms without a referendum.

France’s education problem

This morning children across France will be getting ready for their first day back at school after the summer break.

Catholic daily La Croix is taking the opportunity to take a look at what the new education minister has been up to since he was appointed in May.

In a nutshell, Jean-Michel Blanquer has undone almost all of his predecessors' reforms.

So French schools will be able to return to a four-day week, after François Hollande's government brought in a rhythm of five shorter days.

Some special language classes will also be making a comeback, just a year after Blanquer's predecessor, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, restricted them.

La Croix doesn't comment on these specific decisions but the paper is definitely blasé about the constant change.

The country's education system is seriously flawed and does need reforming, it says.

But real change requires some kind of consensus from one government to another, it says, in order to build trust and stability.

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