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What the papers said 20th September 2018

rfi English, Sep 20

The judicial fate of former president Nicolas Srakozy will be, at least partially, decided later today; and the informal European Union summit continues in Austria, with little evidence of unity.

French former president Nicolas Sarkozy is smiling on the front page of Le Monde.

How long the smile lasts will depend on a judicial decision to be handed down later today by a French appeals court. Sarkozy has asked for the case in which he is alleged to have overspent by 20 million euros the legal limit for a presidential candidate to be taken out of the criminal courts.

Only one of the two judges in the original case was in favour of subjecting the former president to a criminal trial.

Sarkozy has already had his campaign accounts fine-combed and declared invalid. He had to pay a fine of 360,000 euros.

But that was before the so-called Bygmalion affair came to light, with a front company allegedly charging Sarkozy's party for events which never took place, and then returning the money to the campaign coffers.

Sarko's defence team say the figures are completely exaggerated and that their client knew nothing at all about the alleged re-cycling of funds. They say the case is stupid and should be thrown out.

Even if Sarkozy gets off the hook today, and that's anything but sure, there are no fewer than nine other cases, involving things like exerting undue influence, bribery, corrupting a judge, using Libyan money provided by Colonel Khadafi to unfairly finance an earlier campaign, in which Sarko is either the chief suspect or at least one of the possible bad guys.

So he's likely to be back on the front pages, sooner or later. It remains to be seen whether he'll be smiling or not.

Europe sits down and dines in disagreement

Right-wing daily Le Figaro gives pride of place on its front page to the European Union summit meeting currently bubbling away in the Austrian city of Salzburg.

By all accounts, the 28 participating heads of state or government are not happy campers.

They sat down to dinner together on Wednesday night in a glacial atmosphere, according to Le Figaro. Teresa May is fighting to get Britain out of the Union without losing face, being sacked, or blindsided by Boris Johnson. She might even have to sell the silverware. Poland and Hungary both face EU sanctions for various misdeeds related, broadly speaking, to their unwelcoming attitude to migrants and certain reticence over the best way to administer their own democracies.

The diplomats are buzzing about, stressing the informal nature of this summit, assuring anyone who'll listen that all is well. Le Figaro thinks that there'll be no breakthroughs.

On Brexit, the sides remain divided on future relations and, notably, on the question of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Theresa May wants both sides to show flexibility. The 27 remaining Europeans seem to think they've bent over backwards and that she's about as flexible as an oak plank. That's diplomacy for you.

The migration problem is even more vexing, with France and Germany promoting a policy of aid to third-party nations, to prevent migrants arriving in mass on Europe's shores, or worse, drowning in the Mediterranean. Hungary, Austria, Italy and Denmark are opposed.

Other EU member nations, notably Spain and Greece, are invoking the need to ensure sovereignty when what they really want to do, says Le Figaro, is refuse any more migrants.

A member of the French presidential team complained that, "having already refused any form of solidarity, now the anti-migrant camp is refusing to accept reality."

The European family faces two more summits, in October and November, with no sign that relations will get any warmer in the meantime.


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