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What the papers said 17th August 2018

rfi English, Aug 17

Air France finally gets a new CEO, but the pilots still aren't ready to fly with the Canadian; the state of French roads and bridges, government performance; and glowing tributes for Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul", gone at the age of 76.

The papers are all about the rough landing for Air France’s first non-French chief executive, elected by shareholders on Thursday with the approval of the French government despite strong resistance from the group's powerful trade unions.

Le Parisien reports that nine out of 10 Air France unions were against the appointment of Ben Smith, the former chief operating officer at Air Canada. The unions cite his alleged lack of "intimate knowledge… of the French social model", which often results in confrontations between employees and management.

As several newspapers observe, Smith's biggest tasks will be negotiating a new pay deal with the French labour groups following a series of strikes between February and June, that forced out former boss Jean-Marc Janaillac.

Some underline that his proposed salary, said to be in the tune of three to four million euros, would be several times higher than that of Janaillac. This salary bump could also undermine goodwill towards him among employees, who have suffered years of cutbacks and job losses.

That's the case made by the financial newspaper Les Echos. The publication argues that the Canadian’s appointment is no guarantee for success, and compares his arrival to that of Tom Cruise being airlifted into Paris for a mission impossible, a reference to the franchise’s most recent film Fallout.

Les Echos says it is highly likely that Smith may be packing his briefcases up to leave in just a few months if he does not succeed in negotiations with Air France pilots.

As the daily points out, pilots in France consider themselves as elites of the nation. Many of them graduated from prestigious schools, says the newspaper, adding that they are all convinced they are right in defending their interests. If Smith can't convince them that they are wrong, then he will fail, concludes Les Echos.

Le Figaro names the strike culture at Air France as a poisonous disease that makes travelling miserable for its passengers. It claims that Air France unions, especially those of the pilots, have no intention whatsoever to give the new CEO the benefit of the doubt, and are already brazing for crippling strikes to express their opposition to his appointment.

For Le Figaro, they don't seem to care about the ravages of their action on the French carrier, which has seen its shares plunge by more than 35 percent since the start of the year. A bad sign, as the air travel business is increasingly competitive.

Infrastructure worries

As anger mounts over the Italian bridge tragedy, some papers say the collapse of the overpass is shaking the political landscape right into France.

This is amid mounting questions about the poor condition of France's road network and bridges.

L'Alsace warns that the 800 million euros budgeted annually for road maintenance will not suffice to avoid a similar catastrophe, considering the scale of work waiting to be done.

According to the regional publication, regional governments are already overburdened by social expenses and can’t contribute to maintenance funding for the country’s national road network.

It backs a proposal by former conservative transport minister, Dominique Bussereau, to return to the eco tax. Former ecology minister Ségolène Royal scrapped the initiative under Francois Hollande.

Government performance

The traditional forces of evil haunting French presidents seem to have gotten the best of Emmanuel Macron. That is the opinion upheld by Ouest-France.

The publication says there seems to be a yawning gap between the results displayed by the government and the public's general perceptions of the government's capacity to deliver.

It seems to be working like slow poison, holds the newspaper, exposing the government’s inability to reduce massive unemployment, reduce public debt, and dismantle lobbies and corporatist networks of all sorts without provoking a chain of social unrest.

According to Ouest-France, while nobody doubts the commitment to change driving all French presidents and their majorities as soon as they are elected, it's worth noting one year after their accession to power, that the same causes lead to the same effects.

Queen of Soul tributes

And finally there are tributes to Aretha Franklin, the legendary singer who died on Thursday in Detroit at the age of 76, after a long battle with cancer.

Le Figaro reports that the majestic and iconic American singer remained a diva in gospel music, whose legacy will be a hallmark of American culture for centuries.

Le Parisien uploaded clips of her ten most popular songs on its website, starting with her 1967 debut hit "I've never loved a man, the way I love you”, not forgetting her rendition of Otis Redding's "Respect" which earned her first Number in the charts as well as her first two Grammy Awards.

For Le Journal de la Haute-Marne, Aretha Franklin was not just a pop artist but an incarnation of an America that blended the best with the worst. Libération remembers Aretha for singing about her generation, for her generation and with her generation.

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