French press review 8 February 2018

A look at yesterday's tough talking-to French President Emmanuel Macron gave Corsican nationalists. How much will France spend on defence over the next seven years? And how much of that money will be used to renew the nation's nuclear arsenal?


Macron is back home on the mainland after two days on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, which is currently run by a nationalist administration, elected last December and determined to wring increased autonomy from the Paris government.

"Macron resists the pressure of Corsican nationalists," is how right-wing Le Figaro summarises the situation, noting that there were plenty of flags behind the president at yesterday's speech in Bastia. But they were in the French and European colours. There was no sign of the black head on a white background which has been the island's symbol since 1755.

There was no applause either as the French president rejected one by one the various demands of the island's hard-liners.

Corsica is an integral part of the French republic, the president stressed. There can be no question of according "resident status" to long-time inhabitants, a move which locals think will slow down the rise of property prices on an island where more than one-third of the houses are holiday homes. There will be no special tax regime for Corsica. Or, if there is, the state will pay correspondingly less in subsidies. Corsican will not be recognised as a "co-official" language of the republic. And there was no mention of the status of the island's "political prisoners", whom ardent nationalists want to see either freed or at least imprisoned on Corsica itself.

The one door the president did not close, says Le Figaro, was the possibility of giving Corsica a special mention in the constitution. But even that came with a sting in the tail, since Emmanuel Macron told the listening nationalists that he applauded their move as a sign of confidence in the republic, an indication that they understood that their future was as fully French citizens. The president smiled, the island's political leaders gritted their teeth.

Centrist Le Monde says the president's audience yesterday was less than pleased.

Local leader Gilles Simeoni described Macron's visit as a missed opportunity, criticising the French leader for his choice of deliberately hurtful language, his vengeful tone in speaking of the murder by nationalists 20 years ago of the Corsican police chief Claude Erignac.

Jean-Guy Talamoni, the president of the island's assembly, said it was a sad day for Corsica. But he promised to remain true to the demands of the islanders who chose a predominantly nationalist local government in December's elections.

Matters military and monetary

It is interesting to note that the French cabinet is today due to examine the military budget for the next seven years.

Something in the region of 300 billion euros is to be allocated to the defence sector between now and 2025.

Yesterday we noted that US President Donald Trump has promised the generals a sack containing 580 billion euros . . . and that's for next year alone.

Stand up Dr Strangelove

Left-leaning Libération notes that Emmanuel Macron, like his American, Chinese, Russian and North Korean counterparts, is planning to upgrade the French nuclear arsenal. Part of the military money to be debated today will be spent on just that.

Libé wonders if the move is an inevitable reaction to the deterioriating global security situation, or a dangerous acceleration of the nuclear arms race.

The paper's editorial reminds us that Macron has never made any secret of his belief in the importance of a nuclear deterrent, "the cornerstone of our defence policy" as the president put it last month in presenting his new year greetings to the armed forces. But Libé also notes that there has been very little debate about French nuclear weapons, at least since the 1970s.

Neither the public nor the politicians seem to care very much any more about the bomb.

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