French newspaper round-up 13 January 2017


If you survived the 150 minutes of Thursday night’s first televised debate between seven left-wing presidential contenders, you might find the next morning’s newspapers at bit hard to digest.

The contenders for the right to represent the Socialist Party and its allies in this year’s presidential election had their first televised debate.

Le Monde chooses to focus on an early question, posed by the TF1 presenters, in which each candidate was asked to describe the presidency of François Hollande in a single word.

Since these are political professionals, it was too much to hope that they would actually give one-word answers. But, once you cut away the standard introductory and other waffle, you get a revealing insight into the attitudes of each to the man who has been president for the past five years.

Never ask a politician for a one-word answer

Arnaud Montebourg, who was defeated by Hollande in the last primary and who gave up a ministerial post to work selling furniture in the private sector, described Hollande as “difficult to defend”. Three words.

Jean-Luc Bennahmias sounded like a grumpy teacher with his three words “could do better”.

François de Rugy came closest to the limit with “mixed,” but he couldn’t resist offering a long speech in explanation, using words like “contrast” and “lacklustre” to make sure we got the point.

Rebel Socialist Benoît Hamon took a long time searching for his word, before blurting out “wasted” and going on to explain that Hollande hadn’t made the most of his opportunities and had left socialism and France stranded half way across the ford. The TV presenter decided that was two words but she was being polite.

Vincent Peillon started well, describing his feeling about Hollande as one of “incomprehension”, though he couldn’t resist the qualifier “profound”, and then adding that it had happened quickly, with the neighbours, international partners and the ordinary French voter rapidly being left behind by a president who failed to explain where he, and the rest of us, were supposed to be going. Why use one word when you can use several dozen?

Then it was the turn of former prime minister Manuel Valls. He chose the word “pride,” going on to explain that he was really talking about his own performance as government leader and interior minister, notably in the fight against terrorism.

The only female contender, Sylvia Pinel, went for “responsibility” but then got a bit lost explaining what she meant.

Le Monde says the main lines of division were to be seen on the question of a basic income for everyone.

A bright future for freeloaders?

Left-leaning Libération wonders if the proposition of a basic minimum income means that we are on the brink of an age of state-sponsored ease for all. Critics say it just extends the image of a fairy-godmother state which encourages freeloaders. Libé quotes studies carried out in Canada and the United States which suggest, in fact, that the benefits of the system far outweigh the disadvantages.

Hamon supports the idea, with most of the others disapproving, mainly because the idea of money for nothing is difficult for those who believe in a society powered by work.

Laborious, fictitious and expensive, the right-wing verdict

Le Figaro gives pride of place to the long list of problems it says are facing Europe in the year ahead – migrants, the British departure from the European Community, various high-risk elections – relegating the left-wing debate to second place on its front page.

The debate was a grim evening, we are told, a laborious exercise involving those who represent a party that is equally short of ideas and energy.

As for the money-for-nothing debate, Le Figaro’s editorial is conservatively explosive: the scheme would cost 400 billion euros each year, it says.

Le Figaro’s daily poll is asking readers which of last night’s contenders they found most convincing. With nearly 14,000 votes cast a short time ago, 22 percent had chosen Armaud Montebourg, ahead of Manuel Valls (20 percent), with Sylvia Pinel third on 18 percent.