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French press review 24 May 2016


Several French Nobel Prize winners are angry at government plans to cut research spending. Are trade unionists who continue to oppose French labour law reform "social terrorists" or risk takers? Many papers rake over the coals in the wake of Austria's presidential election. And Pope Francis has been talking to the top Sunni cleric Ahmed Al Tayeb.

French Nobel Prize winners are angry, according to the front page of Le Monde. This is because the government has decided to lop 200 million euros off the research budget. The cuts are going to particularly affect investment in laboratory projects says the centrist daily, noting that the ministries involved have all issued hearty communiqués assuring the protection of French research.

"Not so fast," chorus the seven Nobelmen and Fields medal-winning mathematician Cédric Villani. In an open letter to the government, published in Le Monde, they lament a decision contrary to the policy of increasing investment in scientific research current in most advanced economies. On the day that Paris announced the cuts, the German government promised to increased research spending by 75 percent over the next decade. The US federal authorities have decided to double the amount spent on energy research.

The eight speak of nothing less than French "scientific and industrial suicide".

Can unions beat labour reform?

French trade unionists are angry, according to the front pages of both left-leaning Libération and right-wing Le Figaro.

Le Figaro's main story says the government is thinking of giving in to union pressure on labour law rerform. Despite official pronouncements against blackmail and promises of determination, the threat by protesters to block access to the nation's oil refineries has thrown the administration onto its collective back foot, according to Le Figaro.

The right-wing paper's editorial is headlined "Social terrorism" and it accuses the largest union group, the CGT, of holding the nation hostage and being unrepresentative of French workers.

The CGT is against everything as a matter of principle, according to Le Figaro. Against reform, against modernisation of the public service, against improvement. And the government is now paying the price for its repeated failures to rein in an organisation which has grown ever more radical and violent.

Libération takes a different view of the same realities, wondering if the CGT has the strength of numbers - and the moral courage - to bring the country to its knees.

The left-leaning daily's editorial is headlined "Risky" and the writer suggests that an attempt to bring France to a standstill is fraught for several reasons. A very small number of activists are actively involved and the trade union movement is sharply divided on opposition to the reform of labour legislation. The other major union group, the CFDT, believes that the amendments made to the original proposals have created a workable law.

Austian voters issue warning to Europe

Communist L'Humanité gives the front-page treatment to the fact that Austria's new president is not from the far right.

The election was finally won by idependent ecologist Alexander Van der Bellen by a margin of exactly 31,026 votes. Postal votes excluded, Norbert Hofer of the anti-European far right would have won in a canter. This result, says L'Humanité, is a final warning to those supposed to be leading Europe that their policies are increasingly contested and that fundamental change is essential.

The failure of the two major Austrian parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, who have shared power since the end of the last war, shows how mainstream political paralysis boosts the support of extremist groups, the paper says. There's a lesson there for Europe in general, and for France in particular, concludes the communist daily.

Dialogue between men of God

Catholic La Croix turns the spotlight on yesterday's meeting at the Vatican between Roman Catholic leader Pope Francis and top Sunni cleric Ahmed Al Tayeb, chief imam at Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque.

If the official version of the 30-minute talk comes down to peace and goodwill, the fact is that Al Tayeb badly needed to boost his image, damaged by the ongoing struggle between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. And the Catholic church needed to turn the page of Pope Benedict's controversial 2006 observations about the intrinsic violence of Islam.

Missions accomplished, says La Croix.

Ahmed Al Tayeb is to take part in a conference on interreligious dialogue here in Paris this morning, and will meet President François Hollande later today.