Issued on • Modified
French press review 31 September 2018
On a visit to Denmark President Emmaneul Macron jokes about "change-resistant Gauls". The papers report that nobody's laughing. Certainly not pensioners, families or recipients of housing benefit.
Judging by today's French papers President Emmanuel Macron has pleased very few people at home with his remarks during a state visit to Denmark.
Conservative Le Figaro reports that "After having praised Denmark's model of 'flexicurity', he embarked on an astonishing comparison between the two countries."
"It's not about being naive," he said. "It's about a culture, a people marked by its history. This Lutheran people, who have experienced the transformations of recent years, are not exactly [like] the Gaul who is resistant to change!"
The paper reminds us that it's not the first time Macron has voiced this complaint, more often than not during an overseas visit. "First, there were the French who 'hate reforms' in Romania. Then there were the 'slackers', in front of the French community of Athens."
Still, Le Figaro says, "The president believes he has succeeded since his election in provoking a 'cultural change' among the French. 'You will see France transformed by her people. People are changing their minds, they are much more open to risk,' he told Danish employers."
The paper's editorial, headlined "Between Macron and pensioners, the malaise", considers one of several hot issues in France which make Mecron's comment sound like wishful thinking.
"In the end," the paper says, "it is the retirees who pay ... In seeking to complete its 2019 budget, the government has not shown great originality: it will dig into their pockets, this time by deindexing their pensions from 'inflation'."
Le Figaro makes the point that "Having an average pension of 1,361 euros net per month does not make them the 'haves', as they are described. Should we be offended that, after having contributed and saved all their professional life, they enjoy a higher standard of living than that of a young worker? Is it fair to make them more vulnerable when, in fact, they have virtually no opportunity to find additional income?
More than anything, they contrast with the absence of serious cuts in public spending, always promised, constantly pushed back," the paper concludes.
The Gauls might be resistant to change and some, including striking public-sector workers such as train drivers, have the muscle to resist. For the retired there's only the ballot box.
Arrogance and contempt
Centrist daily Le Monde also visits the Gaul story, noting laconically that Macron's remarks have met with some reactions in France.
Le Monde quotes the deputy of the hard-ledt France Unbowed, Alexis Corbière, who called the comments "words of confusing foolishness".
The president of the National Rally (former National Front), Marine Le Pen, said: "As usual, he pours sconr on the French people from abroad! The 'Gauls' will be happy to respond to his arrogance and contempt!"
The president of the Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez, considered it "inadmissible to hear a president criticise and caricature the French".
What did the Romans ever do for us?
Under the headline "Unbearable Gauls," left leaning Libération cites ancient history.
"Resistant to change, the Gauls?" it asks. "Difficult to find a more spectacular misinterpretation. Emmanuel Macron pleads he was making a joke. But, as he's repeated the idea several times, . . . it obviously, expresses a deep conviction, as jokes often do.
"The Gauls, the real ones, were indeed 'resistant' to the [Roman] invasion commanded by Caesar. Once conquered, these Gauls 'resistant to change' became Gallo-Romans, that is to say, they changed leaders, culture, religion, customs and institutions. Funny conservatism."
Maybe it slipped Libé's mind that the methods of Caesar's legions were somewhat more blood-soaked than those of Maron's Republic on the Move.
The communist daily l'Humanité declares "In a country where consumer spending accounts for 55 percent of gross domestic product, the virtual stalemate on pensions, family allowances and housing benefits will impoverish millions of people and increase unemployment. All these French people have good reason to behave as 'refractory Gauls' [after being] lashed by Emmanuel Macron in Denmark to justify his policy of service of the rich."
Macron has since said he was making a joke, the papers report. But few if any in France are laughing.