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Press review

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French press review 10 October 2018

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Which ministers will hold onto their seats in the impending French government reshuffle? Will it make any difference?


The soon-to-be-announced French government reshuffle is this morning's dominant topic.

Le Monde explains the now nealy week-long delay by the necessity of verifying the credentials and past histories of future ministers. The centrist paper also accepts that President Emmanuel Macron has a complicated bit of juggling to do since he'll try to use the departure of his interior minister and close friend, Gérard Collomb, as an occasion to refocus the administration and boost his own flagging popularity. The president currently has an unflattering 33 percent approval rating among French voters.

This, says Le Monde, is going to be a major cabinet overhaul, not just a lick of paint.

Culture, territorial unity, justice, food and agriculture are some of the ministries which commentators suggest might soon have to change the locks.

Defence, foreign affairs and economy might also see changes at the top, according to the same commentators, as their currently successful and popular key-holders are shifted to bolster the government squad.

But the president won't want to change too much, especially as the budget discussions continue to rage internally, with individual government departments fighting for their share of diminishing finance.

The only certainty is that a lot of ministers and their supporting teams are not sleeping too well right now.

"Tragi-comedy in a political vacuum"

Le Figaro regards the whole exercise with an unfriendly eye: "The wheels come off the Macron machine" is the right-wing daily's main headline.

Le Figaro says the president and his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, are struggling to fill the key posts, and that's why it's all taking so long.

And the political opponents are delighted.

Christian Jacob, the parliamentary leader of the right-wing Republicans has been scathing of an administration which has lost seven ministers in 15 months, and is now incapable of filling the vacuum. "A tragi-comic pantomime," is how Jacob views the whole show, seeing it as further proof of the failure of Emmanuel Macron's policies. "Unemployment, taxation, purchasing power, are all in the red zone," according to the opposition parliamentarian.

Le Figaro suggests one other possible explanation for the delay in selecting the new team. The right-wing paper quotes an unnamed but well-informed insider as saying that several right-wing heavyweights have been approached by the current centrist administration, with former right-winger now prime minister Edouard Philippe doing the negotiating, but that none of them was prepared to jump ship.

Protest? What protest?

And what, you might be wondering, happened at yesterday's nationwide marches in protest against government policy?

Not much, according to left-leaning Libération, where the story is relegated to three-paragraph block on a page at the end. There were fifty thousand marchers in Paris, according to the organisers. The police counted about a quarter of them. An independent unit working for a media collective saw 21,500 people at the march in the capital. Most of them seem to have been students and rail workers.

Five ways to improve French prisons

As the debate on the reform of the republican justice system opens in the Senate, the French upper house, Le Monde publishes an open letter signed by a senator and a legal specialist, calling for five major reforms in the prison sector.

The pair begin by pointing out that a nation can be considered great only if it treats its weakest members correctly, especially those it imprisons.

The current situation is not something to boast about.

French prisons are over-crowded by 142 percent. Nearly one-third of inmates are the presumably innocent awaiting trial. Another third are mentally ill, many of them seriously deranged schizophrenics or psychotics. One prisoner commits suicide every two days . . .

And the worst part is what happens next.

Sixty-one percent of those released from French jails go on to commit another serious crime.

The five crucial changes suggested are:

  • Keep the prison places for those suspected of serious crimes. Depending on how you define "serious crime", that comes to between 10 and 28 percent of the current population behind bars and would free 17,000 places.
  • Keep the mentally ill out of prison; put them in secure hospital units instead.
  • Keep sexual criminals separately, because they need special treatment and are at personal risk in general incarceration.
  • Keep terrorists in special units, so that the cycle prison/conversion/radicalisation/terrorist act/prison can be broken.
  • Keep prisons "open" on the Scandinavian model, with easy access to temporary release for those who show a real desire to rejoin the rest of us on the outside.