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France Press review Spain Catalonia Referendum

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French press review 30 September 2017


No one outside the Spanish region of Catalonia will recognise the outcome of tomorrow's referendum on independence. So why are they bothering? Do you use the social media website Facebook, or does it use you? Are you sure? And guess which French city wants to host the 2025 Universal Exhibition.

Le Monde's editorial says tomorrow's referendum on Catalan independence is a waste of time.

Worse, the vote threatens to destabilise Spain just as the economy shows signs of taking off, and the outcome won't be recognised either by the central government in Madrid, or by the rest of the European Union.

This is Spain's worst political crisis since the attempted coup in 1981, and the implications are serious for the whole of Europe.

Le Monde understands why the people of Catalonia want to defend their identity. They have a history, a language, artistic creativity, economic resilience, Barcelona football club. They were in the vanguard of the fight against the Franco regime. All that is true, says Le Monde, but is it enough to support a claim for unilateral independence?

Even if the "yes" camp wins on Sunday, that won't lead to an independent Catalonia. The referendum is, in fact, illegal and unconstitutional. And Catalans were nearly unanimous in their support for the 1978 constitution they now want to defy.

It's not fair to compare the situation in Catalonia with that of, say, the Kurds, who face a hostile central government determined to suppress them through murder, violence and torture.

In Quebec and in Scotland, forms of regional independence were negotiated with the central governments. Unfortunately, Madrid's heavy-handedness has swelled the ranks of the independence camp.

Spain suffered terribly during the 2008 global crisis, Catalonia undoubtedly lead the way to national economic revival. The Catalans feel, perhaps with reason, that they contributed too much. But the way ahead is not tomorrow's pointless gesture, which has already been tried, in 2006, and failed. Intelligence, says Le Monde, calls for negotiation.

The referendum is a risky business, for all concerned

Le Figaro says the Catalan referendum is a risky business. It's a challenge to the Madrid government, and to the organisers of tomorrow's vote. They've seen ten million voting papers confiscated by the police, polling stations closed, the entire poll supervision board resign.

Even if the vote takes place, says Le Figaro, the outcome will be illegal in Spain, dubious in Catalonia.

Should Facebook be closed?

Left-leaning Libération limits its comments on Spain to the observation that the divisions behind tomorrow's poll will widen, whatever the result.

Libé's main story wonders if it wouldn't be a good idea to close down the social media website Facebook.

In the light of revelations about how the site was used during the American and French elections, plagued by personalised advertising, distorted by fake news, by subtle efforts to alter public opinion, would the world not be a better place without it?

The problem is not the tool, says Libération's editorial. It is the way the tool has been wielded, by, for example, Donald Trump. And the apparent openness is a lie. Facebook is not intended to improve the lives of its users; it is intended to boost the bank balances of its investors. It is not a public service.

Worst of all, there is no safeguard, no counter-culture, no alternative. The New York Times says Facebook is like Frankenstein's monster, a power now beyond the control of its creators.

The editorial ends by comparing cyberspace to the Wild West, a place without law where kids with keyboards have replaced Stetsons with six-shooters.

France applies to host the 2025 Universal Exhibition

Not satisfied with having won the right to stage the 2024 Olympic Games, France now wants to host the next Universal Exhibition, due in 2025.

The 600-page application was delivered this week, complete with a covering letter from President Emmanuel Macron who has repeatedly said the exhibition is more important to France than the Olympics.

The theme of the exhibition will be "sharing knowledge, protecting the planet".

If Paris beats the other potential host cities, the expo will be centred in Saclay, south of the capital, with a gigantic globe as the centrepiece, just as Gustave Eiffel's iron tower was the focus of the Universal Exhibition in 1889.

The cost of the project is estimated at a giveaway 3.5 billion euros, since most of the serious infrastructural work will have been completed for the Olympics a year earlier. Ticket sales, donations and private investment will cover the entire cost.

Now, France just has to beat the other hopefuls, Japan, Russia and Azerbaijan.