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French press review 27 February 2018

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There's a lot about trains in this morning's Paris dailies. And about potential strikes. This is because the government has promised to reform the rail sector and the people who work there have promised to go on strike. Who will win? Probably not the people who use trains to get to work.


If you're not interested in the French rail sector, you'd be well advised to skip this morning's front pages.

Le Monde tells us that the government is going to proceed by executive order in the reform of the national rail company, leaving less room for parliamentary debate. The centrist paper says the trade unions are angry at that decision and are to meet to discuss calling a nationwide strike even before the big demonstration due on 22 March, but are having trouble drumming up support.

Reminding readers of the harsh winter of 1995, when the conservative government of Alain Juppé tried to reform social security and retirement, only to provoke massive strikes by civil servants and railworkers, Le Monde says there is a sense that we've seen the same scenario before, but the balance of power this time may be slightly different. And slightly in favour of the reforming government.

The civil service unions are certainly weaker; the rail representatives seem divided on the best approach, even if they are all talking tough with threats of a "major conflict".

One analyst points to the absence of any real political opposition as helping the current government's cause. Since no one, either to the left or right, has anything credible to propose, there's no real push for an alternative.

The March strike will clearly be a big test for both sides.

How will private operators change the rail sector?

Le Monde's electronic edition looks at the related question of competition between European rail companies for French passengers.

Under European Union rules, starting in 2021, private operators will be allowed to run trains on existing national rail networks.

What exactly will the ending of more than 80 years of monopoly mean for the sector?

Well, things will obviously get tougher in terms of competition on the popular, profitable routes between the big cities. The spectre of imminent competition is the government's principal argument in favour of the currently proposed reform of the national company - if the service is not improved now and the debt reduced, the SNCF will simply be swallowed up once open competition becomes the norm, the argument runs.

This is the angle chosen by right-wing Le Figaro, which sees the government as the final defender of the French public service. The right-wing daily also notes, however, the stated determination of the unions to stay out on strike for a month if that's what it will take to bring the authorities back to their senses.

Left-leaning Libération says the Macron administration is playing hardball, promising to push ahead with controversial reforms using the controversial method of government by "ordonnance", a kind of administrative decree. The only bright spot on the horizon is that, for the moment at least, the little-used loss-making parts of the rail network are not going to be butchered.

On inside pages:

  • Libé visits New York's legendary Chelsea Hotel where, in 1965, you could get a room for eight dollars (six euros) a night. Which helps to explain why it attracted so many cultural icons when they were still struggling to make ends meet.
  • Le Figaro looks at Paris St Germain's chances of turning the football tie against Real Madrid around in the wake of Neymar's foot injury. The man has broken a bone in one of his exremely expensive feet and may not be fit to play in next week's Champions League last-16 second-leg tie against Real. PSG are already trailing by three goals to one, so that's bad news indeed
  • And Le Monde tells us that there could be life on Mars, that possibility based on the observation that there's life in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the place on earth that comes closest to reproducing the arid conditions on the Red Planet. All you need are a few drops of water and bacteria that have been dormant for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, to suddenly burst into life. Since there used to be lakes and seas on Mars billions of years ago, it is possible that life-forms from those far-off days might have found places to hide from the current dry spell.