French press review 29 September 2017

Le Monde thinks that the very rich are going to love the next national budget. The rest of us less so. Do you know the name of the French prime minister? Does the new anti-terror law dangerously threaten individual freedom? Would you describe the recently-deceased publisher of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, as a feminist?


Le Monde's editorial suggests that the French budget proposals for 2018 are sufficiently reasonable and realistic to satisfy both the Cour des Comptes, the institution which casts a cold eye on government financial promises, and the European Commission which wants to see France get its debt to productivity ratio, finally, within the norms demanded of Eurogroup members.

But the centrist paper warns that the average voter ain't going to like it one little bit. There are, indeed, tax concessions and spending cuts aplenty. But two measures are going to make this first Macron budget stick in the national gullet like a pork pie with the head and hooves still attached. And they are, the change to the wealth tax which will see income from investments exonerated; and the installation of a 30 percent flat rate of taxation on earnings from capital. That currently runs at 58 percent.

Le Monde says these two measures will affect the French upper crust, notably the top 1 percent of the social pile. The government will plead, perhaps with reason, that the real idea is to stimulate investment. But the struggling masses on the way up, down or under the pile are likely to see nothing more than another government gift to the well-heeled.

Does France have an invisible prime minister?

Who is Edouard Philippe? That's the question that a polling company recently put to a representative sample of French voters. Thirty-eight percent of respondents didn't know.

He is, of course, the French prime minister.

In politics, invisibility is not all bad news. For those who could identify the French government leader, 55 percent find him dynamic, 54 percent like him, and 53 percent think he's competent.

Only 46 percent of those questioned appreciate the man's policies, however, with his standing declining sharply among what the French call the "popular classes" and left-wing supporters.

Edouard Philippe was on national TV last night for two hours, trying to get out of the shadow of President Emmanuel Macron. He was, says Le Figaro, cautious and technical. Whether it will improve his public visibility remains to be seen.

The much anticipated clash between the prime minister and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon proved to be a damp squid. Despite being divided politically by nearly the entire width of the National Assembly, the two are personal friends since 1993 when Edouard Philippe got ready to enter ENA, the prestigious French school for would-be leaders, by working in Mélenchon's office.

That didn't stop hard man from the hard left from telling the youngster last night that his budget plans will stall the consumer motor on which the salvation of the economy depends. But he did it politely, which for Jean-Luc is a real effort. And the leader of the France Unbowed party addressed the prime minister several times as Mr Philippe. Mr Mélenchon may be going soft.

Tougher anti-terror law divides deputies

Libération says the parliamentary majority has managed to undo most of the changes to the new anti-terrorist law proposed by the French upper house. The version which is this week being debated in the National Assembly is, according to the left-leaning daily, very close to the original bill proposed by the government.

The idea is to shift some of the key powers accorded to the police under the state of emergency regulations into the standard law statutes. Rights groups and some legal experts are worried about the consequences.

Police searches will, under the new law, require at least a judicial rubber stamp, not necessary under the emergency regulations which were introduced in the wake of the Bataclan terrorist attacks, and have been re-activated by parliament every three months since.

The conservative Republican party was up in arms yesterday, saying the new law wasn't sufficiently tough. Involving a judge before raiding a suspect's home will just complicate the procedure, says the moderate right. The same right want a tougher line on the closure of places of worship suspected of promoting terrorism. And they think the new rules on house arrest and expulsion are too weak.

Death of Hugh Hefner, Playboy pornographer, and feminist!

I wouldn't want to waste too much time on the career of Hugh Hefner, the founder of the Playboy pornography empire, who died on Wednesday at the age of 91. But I was interested to see Le Monde add the term "feminist" to Hef's list of achievements.

He was, the centrist paper claims, a hedonist, a pornographer, a businessman, a defender of noble causes, a fan of literature and . . . a defender of women's rights.

In 2002 Hugh Hefner declared that he was a feminist before the term had even been invented. This from the man who invented the bunny uniform, complete with floppy ears and fluffy tail, for his female staff.

He claimed that his publication had made a real contribution to the sexual revolution, and that the change from puritan hypocrisy to modern openness had benefitted both men and women. But he condemned a powerful current in the feminist movement as puritanical, prohibitionist and anti-sex.

The feminist writer Camille Paglia accepted that Hefner had been one of the architects of a social revolution. But her colleague Susan Brownmiller may have been closer to the point when she told Hefner that he could talk about women's rights when he was prepared to walk around with a white bunny tail stuck to his butt.

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