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French press review 15 October 2012

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A gloomy assessment of the state of France and a look at the relationship between the French president and his prime minister can be found in today's papers.


You can always count on right wing Le Figaro for a cheery Monday morning headline: "France is going down the tubes!" So says, in fairly liberal translation, the boss of the French bosses union, Laurence Parisot.

Madame Parisot predicts a long winter of discontent for French businesses, with "hurricanes" and other un-natural disasters.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Never one to miss a chance to add injury to insult, the Figaro editorial says France is in a desperate state, with three million unemployed, 60,000 businesses on the brink of bankruptcy, and a horizon bleak with closures, re-organisations and sackings.

It is time, says Le Figaro, to make French business more competitive by reducing the cost of labour and making the jobs market more flexible. That's exactly what Germany did a decade ago, and that's what explains the current strength of the German economy.

Le Figaro does not mention the enormous social cost of the German system, which has no minimum wage, no job security for many employees, and a huge underclass.

The right wing paper says it is easier for the French Socialist government to hammer struggling businesses than to stand up to the trade unions.

While we're on the subject of bashing the rich, business daily Les Echos reports that the 75% super tax on earnings over one million euros will mean an extra 210 million euros in the state coffers. Not bad, considering that just 1,500 tax-payers are involved.

Left-leaning Libération is not exactly full of the joys this morning, either.

"Love last six months" reads Libé's main headline, over a sombre photograph of the supposedly disenchanted couple, President François Hollande and his Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Parliamentary elections 2012

The two men have a long political history together and share the same social-democrat ideology. And that, suggests Libé, may be the problem. They are too close and their relationship lacks the crucial element of critical debate. Worse, the prime minister is currently more popular in most opinion polls than the man who appointed him.

Illegal fishing off the west African coast is ruining stocks, destroying the local industry and making a nonsense of international quotas, according to Le Monde. But the stolen fish are still being sold, legally, on the European market. This all comes from a report by the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation.

Between 1 January, 2010 and 31 July his year, the foundation counted 252 incidents of unregistered fishing in Sierra Leone's territorial waters. Dozens of trawlers apparently work to supply three gigantic factory ships, cruising safely outside the territorial limit. Some foreign fishermen send out crews of locals in traditional canoes, with the catch being transferred to the trawlers after dark.

The locals live on the trawlers, some for as long as three months, and in appalling conditions. One such fisherman interviewed by the Environmental Justice Foundation was just 14 years old.

Regulations on catch size and composition, intended to protect dwindling fish populations worldwide, are completely ignored. The thieves keep anything they can sell, dumping the rest, including dead turtles and dolphins, back in the ocean.

None of the vessels in question is equipped with the satellite monitoring system, obligatory for legal fishing boats, which enables the authorities to track shipping movements.

Ninety per cent of the boats involved were identified as having licenses which allow them to land fish in European Union ports, notably Las Palmas in the Spanish Canary Islands, from where their illegally caught fish are distributed to markets all over Europe.

Greenpeace has reported similar abuses, involving forty vessels, off the coast of Senegal.

The same weekend edition of Le Monde looks at what will have to be done to feed the nine billion human beings who will, in all statistical probability, be demanding meals with reasonable regularity in the year 2050. Some versions of the story even suggest there could be as many as 36 billion of us by then.

We are barely seven billion this Monday morning, and our current agricultural model (or models) are patently, and tragically, incapable of feeding even that many.

The map of world hunger changed between the early 1990s and 2012. The overall number of people who don't get enough to eat has declined but there are still 868 million of them. However, while most of Asia and Latin America have seen a huge reduction in their hungry populations, the evolution in sub-Saharan Africa has been in the opposite direction, with a net increase over the past two decades of around 60 million people.

The problem is simple: either people can not . . . because of war, floods, drought or other disasters . . . produce enough to feed themselves and their dependents; or competition for land with the producers of biofuels pushes the price of food beyond the reach of the poor, who die of hunger even though plenty of food is available.

By the way, the 39th meeting of the United Nations Food Security Commission opens in Rome his Monday morning to discuss these and other problems. Needless to say, not one of the delegates will be hungry.