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France

French press review 5 February 2013

media

Mali, the Common Agricultural Policy and Silvio Berlusconi today....

Le Monde's main headline says "France will be in Mali for a long time". The main reason advanced is that the Malian army is in such a state of disorganisation that it will take months, if not years, to get them on an operational footing.

That's bad news, because, on the same Le Monde's opinion pages, Olivier Roy, specialist in geopolitics, says the French strategy in Mali is a complete dead end.

Dossier: War in Mali

He says the problem is that the two objectives announced by President François Hollande, the defeat of islamic terrorism and re-establishing the territorial integrity of Mali, are not directly related. We remain, says Olivier Roy, locked into the post 11 September rhetoric of US President George W. Bush, where the terrorist threat is used to justify otherwise dubious decisions.

But the fact is, according to Olivier Roy, that islamic terrorism is an annoyance, sometimes a fatal annoyance, but is far from posing a strategic threat.

What Al-Qaeda does, says Roy, is parasite local conflicts, radicalise them and then wait for the western intervention forces to show up. All you need to do to stop Al-Qaeda is ensure that there's no good reason for the local army and police forces to continue to support them.

That didn't happen in Afghanistan, because Mollah Omar refused to extradite Osama Ben Laden. But it did happen in both Bosnia and in Iraq, where local fighters finally chased the islamists out of town themselves. It could also happen in Yemen and in Syria, and it's what should happen in Mali. But that will require a political rather than a military approach to the problem.

Catholic daily La Croix looks at the French role in defending Europe's farmers.

You'll know that European budget negotiations are currently taking place, and that the Common Agricultural Policy is one of the key elements in the trading bloc's annual spending.

French farmers benefit enormously, with nearly ten thousand million euros in handouts, subventions, grants and bonuses every year. Spaniards and Italians are well looked after too. The Germans do less well and so would like to see the whole agricultural aid package renogotiated. Everybody want to protect his own national interests, and everybody is feeling the pinch.

The president of the European budget commission says it's like having twenty-seven Margaret Thatchers sitting around the negotiating table. Which is probably not conducive to compromise.

Libération looks at the well-ploughed field of European football where there may be more going on than meets the eye.

Europol, the continental police authority, say it has evidence of match-fixing involving hundreds of games. Referees, players, even stadium electricians are all under suspicion.

Dossier: Africa Cup of Nations 2013

Over two billion euros of sporting bets are placed every single day, mostly by Asian punters, and mostly on football matches. So the temptation to provide insurance is clearly great. UEFA, the European football authority, has promised to help the police with their inquiries.

My old friend the media magnate, football fan and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Bungasconi, is back with a bang, if you'll pardon the expression.

You'll know that, in the face of grave national need, Silvio has agreed to postpone his well-earned and frequently announced retirement from political life for another few years, and has offered his literally incomparable services to the nation once again.

Bungasconi's political past is filled with girls, scandals, court cases and a couple of broken teeth when somebody clattered him with a statue of the Virgin Mary.

It has also been marked by a series of pharaonic promises: he was going to create one million new jobs in 1994, he didn't; he was going to reduce everybody's tax bill in 2001, he didn't; he was going to build a bridge linking Sicily to the mainland in 2008, he didn't do that either.

But the Italian electorate fell for it every time, and they voted the besuited jester back into power.

This time, smiling Silvio knows he has a tough fight on his hands (his return to political life was welcomed by fewer than 20% of his countrymen and -women).

So, according to Le Monde, he's come up with the mama and the papa of all promises: he's going to abolish Mario Monti's housing tax, and he'll pay back the 2012 installment of that tax.

At a total cost of eight billion euros - in a country which has just been on the brink, and seen its oldest bank go belly-up as a result of unwise dealings in those mysterious things, derived products.

Bungasconi says he will finance the rebate to 80% of the peninsula's taxpayers by a new levy on Italian fortunes currently held in Switzerland, as well as by cutting public spending and increasing taxation of tobacco, lotteries and betting. The gap between Silvio and the leftish coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani is narrowing by the day.

If the Italians believe him this time, they probably deserve another Bungasconi government.

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