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France

French press review 23 June 2014

media

The French engineering company Alstom is getting married to an American by the name of General Electric, and we wish the happy couple well. The best man is the French Economy Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, and the bridesmaids are us, the French taxpayers.

Centrist Le Monde thinks they'll live happily ever after, but is at little worried about the fact that the French state has decided to come along for the honeymoon.

Communist L'Humanité thinks it will all end in tears. And conservative Le Figaro says it's an arranged marriage that won't really arrange anything.

To make a long story slightly less, Alstom has been searching for a suitor for a while now, since being single in the current cold economic climate is no fun at all. Alstom went out on a few dates with Nicoals Sarkozy in 2003. It cost the soon-to-be president a lot of money, and the pair went their separate ways.

That's when a dark and mysterious foreigner by the name of Siemens-Mitsubishi came serenading, pockets bursting with 14.6 billion euros in cash. Enough to turn any girl's head? Montebourg was all in favour of a short engagement followed by a rush to the church. But father-in-law François Hollande wondered if the suitor with the funny accent was ideally placed to protect French jobs. The fiancés were obliged to cool their ardour.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Offers and counter-offers followed like a cheap soap-opera, until the blushing bride offered her gas turbines to General Electric. But the French state has insisted on protecting strategic interest by buying a 20 per cent share in the marriage certificate, giving the Paris government an effective veto on questions concerning electricity distribution, nuclear power and the renewable energy sector.

Conservative Le Figaro says the whole thing is an expensive fiasco, a costly face-saving exercise for Minister Montebourg. The right-wing daily says existing laws fully protect the strategic elements of all French industries. There was no need for the state to throw away all that money.

The communist paper L'Humanité says the government has bought into the deal simply to facilitate the eventual re-sale of parts of what used to be a leader on the national industrial stage.

The communist paper is worried about the employment conditions and job security of Alstom's 96,000 workers under the new management.

And what, wonders L'Huma, will now become of Alstom's contracts to provide about one-third of Cuba's electricity needs? Under the terms of the current American embargo, no US company (indeed, no company with a more than 10 per cent American shareholding) can sell products or services to the regime in Havana.

Are many British soldiers "too fat to fight"? The question is posed by Le Monde, and follows a Sunday Times article which revealed that 11 per cent of serving soldiers are incapable of passing the army's own fitness test.

Dietary insufficiency is the main problem apparently, with too many pizzas, chips and double cheesburgers on the menu. Dayum!

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