French newspaper round-up 31 March 2016


The strikes in protest against proposed changes to French labour law will disrupt travel, electricity supplies and… casinos? What do French presidents and French dragonflies have in common? And how much damage will the failure to change the constitution on the status of terrorists do to François Hollande?

Le Monde’s main headline announces the massive rejection of President François Hollande by left-wing sympathisers. In next year’s presidential election Hollande won’t survive into the second round, no matter which right-wing candidate is chosen to confront him. The same opinion poll shows a similar lack of enthusiasm for Nicolas Sarkozy, the man Hollande replaced, and one of the contenders for the right-wing nomination.

These result are likely to be more significant than most, since they are based on regular interviews with 21,000 voters. Le Monde, perhaps wishing to avoid the mistakes made by pollsters in previous elections, does accept that there are still eight months to go to the Republican primary and a whole year before the presidential battle. A lot can happen to voter intentions in 52 weeks.

A different kind of dragon

Former and incumbent presidents are not the only beasts under pressure. Le Monde also reports that twenty of the nation’s 89 species of dragonfly are threatened with extinction. Two have already disappeared, mainly because of man’s efforts to reduce the wetland habitat vital to their survival.

France thus risks losing the wonderfully named, and very beautiful, Macromia splendens, the Southern Damselfly and the Precious Goddess.

People who count insect populations have also noted a similar decline of about 20 per cent in the number of French butterfly species.

President under pressure

François Hollande gets the front-page honours from right-wing Le Figaro, but he won’t be too pleased about that. The conservative daily claims the latest climbdown by the president, on the question of depriving convicted terrorists of their French nationality, is further proof of his inability to lead the country effectively.

Catholic La Croix gives pride of place to the same story, regretting that what started as a spontaneous reaction to the November massacres in Paris should have ended in such a political shambles.

In embarking on such a dangerously symbolic endeavour, La Croix asks, was President Hollande motivated by a sincere wish to mobilise national unity or by a political calculation intended to embarrass his right-wing opponents?

The answer to that question will have to be left to history, suggests La Croix. What is certain that the political fallout has greatly damaged the ruling socialist majority and furthered weakened a president already struggling to impose his authority.

Struck while striking

As France wakes up to another day of strikes and protest marches against proposed changes to labour law, left-leaning daily Libération devotes its main story to an inquiry into alleged police excesses in the dispersion of student protestors at previous marches.

Reports, supported by video evidence, suggest that some police officers have used excessive force against individual protestors. Some officers have engaged in actions with their faces masked to prevent identification.

Libé says very few official complaints have been registered because most people are unwilling to go to the police to complain about police brutality.

No surrender

Communist L’Humanité wants nothing less than the complete withdrawal of the labour law changes, following the line of the main trade unions which have said that the current bill is not worth discussing and should simply be dropped.

The unions say the proposed changes won’t create badly needed jobs but will make part-time, non-permanent work more normal, while increasing the existing disparities between young and old, men and women.

The main story on the web edition of Le Monde says the turnout is likely to be major, and put even further pressure on an executive which has already delayed the contested legislation to allow time for further discussion.

The strike affects transport, including Air France, electricity supplies, the printing and distribution of newspapers, ports and docks, even casinos.

On the last similar day of action against the changes, 9 March, there were either 200,000 or 450,000 participants in the various marches up and down the country.

On Friday, the numbers and the gaps between them are likely to be even bigger.