French newspaper round-up 9 March 2016


Late from the RFI, but still relevant, Le Monde is disappointed by the European Union’s inability to come up with a better plan for Syrian refugees than sending them, en masse, back to Turkey. And Robert Mugabe is still alive and kicking.


Le Monde’s main story is headlined “Europe drives the migrants back to Turkey,” a reference to this week’s discussions in Brussels at which the 28 European leaders gave at least tacit support to a plan which involves moving the current Greek crisis eastwards by sending those Syrians who risked their lives to cross the Aegean back to Turkey.

It’s a solution in name only, raising judicial and practical questions which Europe’s political chiefs have chosen to ignore.

Legally, every migrant has the right to have her or his demand for asylum examined individually. Under this plan, all refugees currently on Greek soil risk being part of a mass deportation eastwards, an unhappy echo of European history in the 1940s for many leaders. There’s absolutely no incentive to encourage the migrants to go back to Turkey and wait patiently. Some will eventually be granted asylum, some will not, just like now.

Unfortunately, Greece is the European state least able to deal with this huge influx of desperate people, as Athens struggles to recover from economic crisis and still has huge repayments to make to its European partners.

Anyway, whatever Europe’s confused and embarrassed heads of state decide, the smugglers will find new routes, bodies will wash up on new beaches, the worst refugee crisis since the last war won’t simply go away.

The Turks, by the way, aren’t offering free board and lodging to their unfortunate neighbours. They want another three billion euros on top of the three billion already agreed by Europe, plus they want the negotiations on special European visas for Turkish citizens to be speeded up. Not to mention the clear obligation of the European Union to silence any criticism of Ankara for its dubious handling of the Kurdish question.

Morally, financially and practically bankrupt, the new European plan will be the subject of a further crisis summit later this month.

[Some might say that €3 billion is a small price for Europe’s NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) leaders to pay to salve their collective conscience. Ed]


On inside pages, Le Monde assures us that Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, is alive.

Every few months, Bob takes a holiday or goes overseas for medical treatment. No sooner has he sipped his first in-flight orange juice than his death is announced as a matter of fact. Ninety-year-old Robert Mugabe is better than Mark Twain at surviving the rumours of his own demise.

But, asks Le Monde, what is behind this repeated determination by some Zimbabweans to be rid of Robert, the man who has ruled the country since independence and who has recently said he hopes to celebrate his one hundredth birthday as president?

In the first place, Zimbabwe is not doing as well as Robert Mugabe appears to be. At least two million people currently need food aid; the agriculture and mining sectors are still reeling from the disastrous impact of presidential decrees on ownership; foreign investment is rare.

There are those in the ruling Zanu-PF party who feel that Bob should retire and give the country a rest.

There’s a group around the current vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa; there’s Grace Mugabe, wife of the great man himself; and there’s Joice Mujuru, sacked from her job as vice-president 15 months ago. To name just three pretenders.

The problem is that, was Bob to drop off his perch, there’s no clear successor, but plenty of factions prepared to fight for the right to try.

Zimbabwe may some day look back on the Mugabe era as a sort of golden age.

[Precedents are plentiful to support such a notion – Tito in Yugoslavia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Gaddafi in Libya – where brutal dictatorships held a fragile peace before war broke out in their absence. Ed]