France has been trying to interest foreign bidders in contracts on the Rafale for years, but the orders have obstinately refused to come in: sales to Morocco and Oman folded, while a deal with the UAE also appears to have stalled. Now Le Monde reports that another big contract, this time with Lula da Silva's government in Brazil, may be on the skids: President Lula, who retires from office at the end of this month, has just changed his mind on signing a deal for the Rafales before he goes. Is this a cancellation or just a setback, wonders the paper in its editorial. Either way, it concludes, it's more bad news for Dassault.
Left-leaning Libération has entirely banished Wikileaks news from its pages today, which makes a bit of a change. Leading instead is a chilling story about an appetite-suppressing drug called Mediator, long banned in the US and taken off the market in Spain in 2006, but only outlawed by France at the end of last year. Pressure is mounting in France for a government inquiry into Mediator, a drug which, as we now know, attacks the valves of the heart, and has killed at least 500 people as well as damaging the health of many others. It appears that the dangers of the drug have been suspected since at least 1997 -- and some even more shivery information recently came to light thanks to the satirical paper Le Canard Enchainé, which published documents claiming to show that the government had known since 2006 that Mediator was a killer. Now the opposition and pressure groups say that the government wants to block an inquiry for fear of what it might reveal about its links with Big Pharma. The government denies that, of course.
Right-leaning Le Figaro has a front-page story on the continued rivalry between Martine Aubry, the leader of the socialist party in France, and Ségolène Royal, its former leader and candidate for the presidency. A crisis of government is brewing in the party, with Royal saying that she'd like another chance at beating President Sarkozy in the 2012 elections: she lost to him, of course, in 2007. According to Le Fig, whatever Aubry and Royal may have promised about not treading on each other's toes in the run-up to the primaries, they have now unambiguously joined battle: both candidates were on meet-n-greet tours in the suburbs outside Paris yesterday, just miles from each other and clearly aiming to convince the same sections of the voting public. Le Fig also says that the tone of each side's comments on the other has noticeably soured in recent days.
Libération covers an increasingly strange story that's been developing for a while in the French media - it has to do with Marine Le Pen, the lawyer and politician who's hoping to succeed her father Jean-Marie as president of France's right-wing National Front party. Not for the first time, Le Pen has managed to offend French Muslims by complaining about employment policies in halal butchers. She says that non-Muslims touching halal meat makes it impure, so halal butchers can only employ Muslims, which discriminates against non-Muslims. Got that? The only problem, according to several members of the Muslim community contacted by Libé, is that halal meat is halal whether a non-Muslim touches it or not, as long as it's been butchered in the proper manner. Le Pen is now being invited to make a tour of halal abattoirs, where, according to the president of the French Islamic council, she won't find a single place that only employs Muslims.
Meanwhile, the Christian daily La Croix is reporting on several new campaigns by the Catholic church to solicit funding and charity donations. Fewer and fewer people are giving to the Church, says La Croix, often because they don't know what their money's being used for. Is it, wonders one of the interviewees, to heat the church, to pay the priests or pay for the Pope's trips abroad? According to the paper, several branches of the church have resorted to shock advertising campaigns to attract donations for the Church's empty coffers - and there's a big photo of one such billboard on La Croix's front page, which, roughly translated, says "Jesus Crisis! Why the Hell not donate?"
And finally, Le Monde finds space for a story that seems to show a greater-than-usual rapprochement between France and its neighbours across the Channel. Recent hikes by the British coalition government in university tuition fees, and a corresponding rise in prospective student debt, have led to vast demonstrations across Britain by students and schoolchildren. 'The revolt of "Thatcher's children"', says Le Monde's headline, even though lots of these young activists won't have been alive in the Thatcher years ... perhaps it's implying that we are all Thatcher's children now or something. Anyway, since France traditionally considers itself to have the monopoly on street protest and civil disobedience, and the British to be phlegmatic mustn't-grumble types -- on "the other side of the Channel," as Le Monde silkily points out, "respect for others often takes priority over the effectiveness of protest" -- this latest evidence of the worm turning is being greeted with applause over here.