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French press review 5 March 2015

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China's growth slows. Nuclear giant Areva loses billions and there's debate about the reasons and who should foot the bill. Iran joins Iraq in fighting the Islamic State armed group and there are questions about whether that's good news.


Le Monde reports that China has reduced its economic growth forecast for this year to "about 7.0 per cent".

Last year's Chinese growth rate, a "mere" 7.4 per cent, was the lowest in 24 years. Le Monde suggests that the Communist Party is anxious to reassure investors that, although the negative impact of the global economic slowdown is inevitable, at least Beijing has the situation under control.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Closer to home, Le Monde looks at the troubles of the French nuclear company, Areva.

Areva, which builds and runs nuclear reactors, lost nearly five billion euros last year. Business daily Les Echos says the company is not just unwell, it is terminally ill. The finance paper says it is urget for Areva to join forces with the national electricity company, EDF, which is its major client.

The reason this story has people getting so hot under the collar is that Areva is 87 per cent state-owned.

The global nuclear industry has been under enormous pressure since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March 2011. The world economic slowdown hasn't helped much either.

Yesterday, Areva management announced the first round of treatment, promising to sell off subsidiaries, cut expenditure by one billion euros and refocus on its core activity.

Communist L'Humanité doesn't like the sound of that one little bit.

The paper's main headline warns that the French nuclear industry is in danger of being broken up and sold off, piece by piece. According to the trade unions, it is not fair for the workers - there are currently 45,340 of them - to pay for the strategic errors made by their bosses.

L'Humanité says that plans to reduce investment by one third are likely to be counter-productive, since they will close off important development possibilities, notably in the renewable energy sector where Areva has made advances in the off-shore wind farm business.

L'Huma has no time for the Fukushima fall-out argument, saying that Areva's losses are due to the collapse of the price of uranium, which the company mines at several locations in north Africa, and to the spiralling costs at the Flamanville site in northern France, where the company is building a pressurised water reactor for the national electricity supplier.

Fifteen years of state short-sightedness are to blame, says L'Huma. It's a disgrace that such a strategically important sector is so badly managed. The tragedy is that the price will be paid in job losses by ordinary workers.

Libération looks at the arrival of Iranian forces to fight alongside the Iraqi army against the Islamic State armeed group. You might be inclined to think that any assistance against the crazies and their caliphate would be welcome, especially if it leads to former enemies fighting side by side. Libé suggests that you'd be wrong.

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The problem is that the Iranians are Shia Muslims, as are most Iraqis But they are deeply suspected by the Sunni-Muslim populations in the partis of Iraq they are now helping to liberate. Some Iraqis would rather fight Islamic State on their own than accept help from the traditional enemy. Some, suggests a regional political analyst interviewed by Libé, would rather take their chances in a caliphate run on Islamic State lines. Which means that Iran's involvement, whatever its military benefits, may ultimately be counter-productive.

The other problem is that the Iranian military involvement is through militia groups, ostensibly under orders from Tehran but completely beyond the control of Iraqi officers.

Libération suggests that we are seeing the emergence of a confessional war in the shadow of the struggle against the jihadists.

Worse, the improved status and military position of Iran is an indirect boost for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, solidly supported by Tehran. For Libé, between a dangerous escalation of Sunni/Shia tensions and a further strengthening of the position of the man the paper calls "The Butcher of Damascus", the lesser of the two evils is not easy to identify.