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French press review 22 December 2014


The medical staff on strike, solidarity action in Madagascar, politics with Juppé appearing as a favorite and a return to childhood with Winnie-the-Pooh...Here are what the French newspapers have to say only a few days before Christmas.

This would not be a good time to injure yourself or become seriously ill. Conservative paper Le Figaro says the Health Minister has managed to unite the medical profession against her proposed reform of the sector, provoking a strike by doctors in the nation's emergency services.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Tomorrow it's the turn of French GPs to stay at home and the strike is likely to upset the smooth running of hospitals, clinics and some private practises until the end of the year at least.

The doctors are resisting what they see as the increasing grip of the state on their profession, notably attempts by the minister to extend the system of third-party payments which, effectively, make a visit to your French doctor free.

The doctors don't like the taste of that medicine at all, saying it will simply encourage the mad, the malingerers and the mildly unwell to crowd into hospitals and consulting rooms so that they can continue the national habit of over-consuming medical advice.

Says Le Figaro of the proposals, originally intended to extend access to the poorest strata of society, it's the government, once again, walking on its head, especially in these cash-strapped days of penny-pinching austerity.

An opinion poll published by Le Figaro says 63 per cent of French voters support the doctors' strike action.

Communist L'Humanité gives front-page prominence to the same story, claiming that doctors in French emergency services typically work 70 hours each week while being paid for only 40.

The communist paper says the strike is all about reducing the work load in hospitals where the number of visits to emergency has increased from 14 million admissions in 2002 to 18 million in 2011. Doctors should not be asked to work 60 hours each week, under enormous pressure, according to the communist paper.

Catholic La Croix gets into the seasonal spirit with a look at how sharing and solidarity are helping some communities in Madagascar to escape the poverty trap.

In the absence of war, terrorism and natural disasters, Madagascar should be an earthly paradise. But the island's seemingly interminable political crisis has discouraged foreign investment and meant the central government has other priorities. Now skill-sharing schemes involving French farmers are helping to boost agricultural production at the local level.

Left-leaning Libération gives the front-page honours to former conservative prime minister, Alain Juppé, fancied by nearly 50 of French socialists to be the next president.

Libé grudgingly says Juppé is the best of a bad lot. With overall support of 47 per cent, the mayor of Bordeaux leads current prime minister, Manuel Valls, then Nicolas Sarkozy, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen in fourth place. Incumbent president François Hollande is in 18th position, with 11 per cent support, including fewer than one per cent of right-wing voters.

Three-quarters of those French right wing voters questioned want Nicolas Sarkozy to be given another crack at the top job. Libé suspects that the next winner will be someone who manages to transcend the traditional left-right divide in French politics.

Bring back the bear!

Winnie-the-Pooh is on the front page of this morning's very serious Le Monde.

Winnie, for any readers over the age of five, is a yellow stuffed bear of very little brain who likes honey and adventures. He's been on the go since 1926.

The original stories, based on a real stuffed bear bought in a London shop, were written by A.A. Milne for his son Christopher who also features in the series.

That primal Winnie still exists but has been imprisoned for the past 27 years in a specially conditioned glass cage in the basement of the New York Public Library. A sort of Guantanamo Bay for bears. Following years of diplomatic wrangling involving Prime Ministers and US presidents, it looks as if Winnie might soon be allowed home at least briefly.

Le Monde says a decades-long campaign led by Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody could soon lead to the release of the bear by the American authorities, provided they are assured he'll be properly looked after. An outcome which will surely encourage those Greek activists who have been trying for decades to get back Lord Elgin's marbles.