French weekly magazine review 23 October 2016

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It’s Ed’s birthday today, and the team are in Nice for a few days, so sorry for the short news item today. We’ll be back in full swing for Thursday morning!

According to this week’s magazines, France needs not just a new president, but a complete change of presidential style. Are any of the current contenders sufficiently austere to take on the mantle of Charles De Gaulle? Economist Thomas Piketty says the presidency of François Hollande has been a disaster for France. And the world’s very rich are getting poorer.

The weekly magazine Marianne devotes its cover to the current French president and his immediate predecessor, respectively François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, suggesting that, whoever wins next year’s election, France badly needs a change of style at the helm.

There’s not a lot to choose, says Marianne, between the gilded vulgarity and divisive rhetoric of Sarko, and the empty phrases and chronic indecision of Hollande.

Suggesting, with perhaps less honesty than the historical record allows, that Charles de Gaulle set the standard for all subsequent presidents, Marianne finds that the figure of the French leader has lost a lot of its standing since the Fifth Republic came into being in 1958.

De Gaulle insisted that there had to be a distance between the president and the people to ensure that the leader maintained his solemn position as an almost sacred figure. From that, says Marianne – which is a left-leaning publication – we have descended to François Hollande, the people’s president, too visible, too ordinary, incapable of making the French feel proud of who they are. 

Can anybody do better?

Socialist pretender Arnaud Montebourg is on the same Marianne front page, talking a good fight against Hollande. Current opinion polls don’t give the former minister much chance of even getting to the starting line.

Is Alain Juppé really a socialist in disguise?

Then there’s the very popular right-wing runner Alain Juppé, the man most likely to emerge victorious from the Republicans party’s selection process. He’s on the cover of the left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, with the crucial question: why are so many Socialist voters planning to support him?

The magazine presents a life-long man of the right, he who was prime minister under Jacques Chirac, but who is really not all that right-wing after all. He’s liberal on economic questions and firm on immigration but, say some of his supporters, he’s really a socialist disguised as a conservative.

We are asked to remember how shocked Juppé was by his visit to the Calais Jungle migrants’ camp last January, to note his constant rejection of sectarian thinking, his sensitivity to human suffering. The mayor of Bordeaux begins to sound like a candidate for sainthood, not just for the French presidency!

Despite all of which, it turns out that his popularity with left-wing voters is almost entirely based on their desire to ensure that Nicolas Sarkozy does not get a second shot at running the shop.

According to an opinion poll carried out by Le Nouvel Observateur, only 10 percent of Socialist and Green Party sympathisers will vote for Juppé because they appreciate the man himself and the centre-right politics he promotes. The rest see him as the best stumbling block to throw in the way of Sarko, thus avoiding the nightmare scenario of a second round in which the former president would face far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

No cigar for François Hollande

In the same Nouvel Observateur, the economist Thomas Piketty says the Hollande presidency has been a disaster for France: too much improvisation, too little reflection.

Hollande has to take responsibility for following German Chancellor Angela Merkel into the Greek crisis and then totally mismanaging the fallout. He is largely responsible for Brexit, because he contributed so much to the decline of the euro and the collapse of European commercial confidence, according to the economist. Those subjects of Her Majesty who voted to leave didn’t feel they were going to be missing much.

By refusing to announce his intentions regarding the 2017 election until December, Hollande has given the high ground to the right-wing contenders, says Piketty, leaving the hopefuls of the left with little time for the debates and presentations which will be needed to clarify a new Socialist policy line.

Is France wise to do business with Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

The main story in Le Point looks at what the magazine describes as the dangerous links between France and two Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Right and left-wing administrations have been equally guilty of fraternisation with two regimes that really don’t deserve the time of day but happen to have ready cash up to their eyeballs.

Le Point says the Hollande government has been seduced by contracts worth over 20 billion euros and has turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s use of capital punishment, treatment of women, involvement in the war in Yemen, support for those fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, whatever their degree of radicalisation . . . the list is long.

While Washington condemns the part played by some Gulf governments in the financing of the Islamic State armed group, Le Point says Paris has remained silent. Because the luxury of speaking out carries a big price tag.

It’s tough being rich

Weekly satirical paper Le Canard Enchaîné is happy to report that, according to the consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers, the world’s 1,397 richest people lost a total of 300 billion euros in the course of 2015. A tragic situation which leaves each one of them with an average of just 3.7 billion euros.

A city of crazies and presidential candidates

L’Express devotes its cover and 40 inside pages to extolling the wonders of New York, a city the French weekly finds even more irresistible  than ever.

If you think that makes a welcome change from all the other guff about presidents and politics, forget it. L’Express focuses on the Big Apple because it is home to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, rivals in next month’s US presidential battle.

Perhaps the writer Tom Wolfe, long-term resident and often savage critic of the city that never sleeps, deserves the last word. “New York is an exciting place,” he says in an Express interview. “But it does seem to attract a lot of crazies.”