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French press review 14 January 2013


This morning's French dailies reflect a busy weekend...

Friday was marked by two major events . . . on the domestic front, trade unions and employers managed to come to terms on what is being called "a new economic and social model". At the same time, in Mali, French military forces were, for the first time, fighting islamist rebels to the north of the town of Sévaré.

Al-Shebab - who are they?

On Saturday, soldiers tried to free a French hostage in Somalia.

Yesterday saw thousands of those who are opposed to the law allowing marriage for everyone, homosexuals included, take to the streets in a major show of force.

Le Monde says Friday's deal between workers and bosses is "almost" historic. The employers have been granted the extra flexibility in recruitment policy which the current uncertain economic climate makes essential for survival. Basically, bosses whose businesses face a sudden black patch can reduce salaries and the hours worked, but they can't sack any workers. Then, once the market picks up, everyone starts working full-time again, at full pay.

Apart from being sure of keeping their jobs through an economic downturn, workers are going to have a say in the way larger companies are run; they'll have better sickness benefit; and the right to re-training all through their professional lives.

Le Monde says everybody wins. And that should make us suspicious.

Two trade unions have, in fact, refused the whole package, and say they'll campaign against the deal. The others still have to sell the agreement to their members. And then the government has to turn Friday's ball of wax into a series of laws, an undertaking which may expose the various fault lines in the social democratic household presided over by François Hollande. As Le Monde ominously suggests, the hard part is still to come.

That may also prove to be true for the French soldiers fighting the islamist activists who have been in control of the north of Mali since last year's military coup in Bamako.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The French have the support of a very well-equipped air force but they face a highly mobile, highly motivated and very well-equipped enemy. Most of the weapons in the hands of Mali's rebels were originally part of the sophisticated arsenal belonging to deposed Libyan leader, Moamar Kadhafi. Indeed, many of the fighters are former Kadhafi mercenaries, rebels without a cause. And the bad guys are at home in the desert. The strategic similarities between northern Mali and the mountains of Afghanistan, or the jungles of Vietnam, won't have been lost on anyone.

As for the seven French hostages held by the islamists, their survival has been compromised by events on the ground. If François Hollande's intervention is seen to be a clear military success, those seven lives (and the further deaths of French soldiers) will be regarded as a tragic but inevitable part of the price for regional security. If, however, the military campaign becomes bogged down and remains indecisive, and if there are terrorist attacks by islamist sympathisers in France itself, then President Hollande could quickly lose the political and popular advantage earned by his decisive action.

The fate of Denis Allex, the Frenchman held for the past three and a half years by islamist fighters of the Al Shebab group, and who French forces tried to free on Saturday in a commando operation, remains unclear. He is not free, that is sadly sure, but there are now grave doubts about his safety. Several civilians and at least one French soldier died in the operation. A second soldier is missing.

Which brings us to another presidential nightmare, allbeit one in which fewer lives are at risk.

Yesterday's Paris protest against same-sex marriage mobilised either 340,000 people, or 800,000 or one million, depending on who was doing the counting.

Right wing daily Le Figaro advances the figure of one million, saying that numbers don't really matter. What matters is that "France" has spoken, and "France" doesn't want homosexual families.

Interactive map of France

More lucid, and journalisticly more honest, the catholic daily La Croix accepts that, in fact, a majority of the French are in favour of same-sex marriage. All opinion polls confirm that, by a slight margin.

The real trouble surrounds the questions of adoption, of medically assisted conception. The catholic paper simply asks for more debate, to allow the fears and misunderstandings on all sides to be heard. And La Croix calls for that debate to be carried out in a spirit of openness and fraternity.

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