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France Press review

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French press review 14 September 2017


Are the Olympic Games a good thing? Was Tuesday's day of action against labour law changes a victory for the government or for the workers? And should the anti-terrorist provisions introduced under the state of emergency be written into French law?

While the rest of the nation is cheering the choice of Paris as host city for the 2024 Olympic Games, the grumpies at right-wing Le Figaro are warning that five dangers threaten the French capital's capacity to put on a worthy global show.

The first threat concerns the budget. Olympic cities always underestimate how much they'll have to spend. The question is how far beyond the promised seven billion euros will Paris go. Beijing 2008 will be hard to beat. They said they could do the games for three billion. The Chinese Games finally cost 31 billion.

Then there's the question of building the necessary infrastructure. Ninety-five percent of the sports facilities are already in place but the organisers still have to build an athletes' village and a new swimming centre, and speed up planned changes to the Paris transport system. Seven years is not a long time. Last summer in Rio, the painters were still at work as the opening ceremony got under way.

Will those who oppose the project - 48 percent of French people according to a poll carried out in 2014 - get in the way. What about strikes and other disputes?

Will the political classes continue to show support for the Paris Games? Unity and solidarity are the key words right now, while everyone is full of champagne. But what will happen once the various co-ordinating bodies are publicly named. Le Figaro suggests that some of the behind-the-scenes action will be worthy of the Olympic boxing competition. And, if the wheels come off the budget, pistols and rapiers will be the weapons of choice.

Finally there's the question of security. As things stand, the budget includes 186 million euros for security. But it's clearly impossible to make a meaningful estimate of the level of threat in seven years' time.

Le Figaro's editorial is not sure what it wants to say. This is "a great occasion" we are assured, a worthy reminder of the last Paris Games, in 1924. "Paris and France should savour this success," the article ends, "but better not start cheering under the final bill is presented".

Le Figaro readers are following the disgruntled line taken by their paper: in today's on-line poll, with 30,000 voters, 67 percent say the choice of Paris for the 2024 Games is bad news, with 33 percent celebrating the decision.

State of emergency or state of suspicion?

The editorial in Le Monde questions the logic of a permanent state of emergency.

France has been in that supposedly exceptional and short-term condition since the Paris attacks of November 2015.

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to put an end to the current situation by the end of next month. The French parliament will shortly consider a new anti-terrorist law which has already been approved by the Senate.

The problem, warns Le Monde, is that the proposed legislation is virtually a transcription of the emergency regulations into ordinary law.

Terrorist suspects will face house arrest and can have their homes and businesses raided, visitors to France will face a new battery of border controls. Religious establishments could be closed by the police on suspicion of links to extremism.

None of that is excessive, says the centrist daily, especially when the point is to limit the risk of terrorist attack. But. By putting crucial questions of civil liberty into the hands of the police rather than before the courts, the proposed law risks turning France into a state ravaged by suspicion.

The mistake is understandable but the government is wrong, says Le Monde. Individual freedom must not be sacrificed, even to ensure security.

Two tribes go to war

Left-leaning Libération continues to rake over the coals of Tuesday's nationwide protests against labour law changes.

What do we learn about the objectivity and honesty of the nation's journalists, the paper asks, when we consider that the left-wing publications - l'Humanité, Mediapart, Libération itself - described the demonstrations as a success, while their right-wing competitors - Le Figaro, l'Opinion, Les Echos - saw nothing but failure?

How difficult can it be to count the number of people who take part in a protest? Especially since the police have lots of experience and equipment for doing the job and were certified honest by an independent report published in 2015. The police counted 223,000 people at Tuesday's marches. So that's clear.

That's smaller than the first protest against the previous Socialist government's labour law, named after then labour minister Myriam El Khomri, last year and a lot smaller than showed up for the second anti-El Khomri demonstration. That's clear too.

But, says Libé, you have to remember that Emmanuel Macron was elected president and was able to form a majority government just four months ago, having promised to reform labour law profoundly. You can hardly expect those who voted for the man and his policies then to get out on the streets now. There should, in fact, have been far fewer participants in the various protests this week. Which leads Libé to reaffirm that Tuesday was, indeed, a success for the organising union, the CGT. Now you know.