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What the papers said 5 June 2018

rfi English, Jun 5

President Macron's chief of staff to face investigation for conflict of interest, while Italy's new populist government looks to spoil EU Interior Ministers crunch talks in Luxembourg on immigration policy.

We begin with reactions to the decision by French anti-corruption prosecutors to open an investigation into President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler over suspected conflict of interest of rules binding civil servants in his links to Italian shipping giant MSC.

Le Parisien reports that the probe will dig into Kohler's career as a senior civil servant in France's economy ministry, where he served as cabinet director to Macron during his time as Economy minister from 2014-2016.

According to the newspaper, Alexis Kohler’s mother is a cousin of billionaire Rafaela Aponte, who founded the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), now a global leader in container shipping and cruise holidays.

Several papers report that Kohler left the economy ministry in 2016 to join Swiss-based group as finance director but continued to work on Emmanuel Macron's bid for the presidency in his spare time, providing advice on policy and strategy leading to his appointment as secretary general of the Elysée Palace.

Le Monde says the allegations against Kohler relate to his time in the economy ministry when he was involved in decisions affecting a major French shipyard in the western city of Saint-Nazaire. It claims that MSC is one of the most important clients of the strategically important industrial site, adding that Kohler sat on the board as a representative of the state and later dealt with the company while serving as Macron's deputy cabinet director and then cabinet director from 2012-2016.

According to La Nouvelle République du Centre-Ouest, we are probably at the start of a major scandal, despite the quick move by President Macron's office on Monday to dismiss the allegations of wrongdoing.

As the newspaper argues, without prejudice about his goings and comings from the public service and the MSC group, such a “mélange de genres” is certainly embarrassing to President Macron and is likely to reinforce his image of rich man’s President he is struggling to get rid of.

As EU Interior ministers gather in Luxemburg this Tuesday in another attempt to tackle the immigration crisis Le Figaro reports says the coming to power in Italy of an anti-system government will complicate the discussions.

The right-wing publication claims that on top of the hardline stance expected from the League and 5-star Alliance coalition now holding sway in Rome, the wave of migrants arriving Europe has not slowed down, with 10 000 more registered in Greece on June 1 as opposed 173 000 overall in 2016.

Furthermore according to the Le Figaro, the EU faces disintegration if the Luxemburg meeting fails to take pragmatic decisions about containing the influx from the Mediterranean especially after the drowning of a boat load of migrants off the coast of Tunisia on Saturday.

The newspaper concludes with a warning that the EU has to show proof of a burst of courage if the economic bloc doesn't want to be taken for a machine to grind nations and their people.

For Libération, the rise of nationalism in Europe underscores the delusive panic which has inexorably gripped the sub-continent. The publication upholds the view, that while it is economic and social problems which have fuelled the rise of populism, it is immigration which has become the main argument for nationalist demagogues.

What Europe needs to do according to Libé, is to match the rise of populism with the upholding of values and the implementation of policies demonstrating the need to be welcoming, first as a matter of principle and long term economic and demographic necessity, but also under clear rules that are based on precise regulations.

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