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France

French press review 22 February 2016

media DR

The French papers take a look back at the life and intellectual achievement of Umberto Eco, the Italian writer who died at the end of last week, aged 84. Donald Trump is not dead yet and is unlikely to be remembered for his intellectual achievements. But could he become president of the United States? Yes, actually!

The Italian writer Umberto Eco, who died on Friday at the age of 84, is on every French front page this morning.

He was a "Magician with words", according to Le Monde, a living library for Catholic La Croix, a cultural emperor in the view of Le Figaro. Libération says the variety of his intellectual output - he was interested in everything from ancient philosophy to airport litterature - was enough to fill 5,000 lives.

Libé says Eco was too interested in the multiple links between the real, the false and the unlikely to ever claim that he knew where truth resided.

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Umberto Eco sounds a lot more interesting than Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race to represent the Republican Party in the next US presidential election.

Libé is alarmed at what it calls "The rise of the big beast". The fact is that, until quite recently, Trump has been regarded by many Americans and the vast majority of foreign observers as a bad joke, a small-minded, big-spending demagogue whose only talent is flogging dead or dying horses and who would feel he was wasting his time if he wasn't offending many of the people, all of the time.

The problem now is that he's starting to look like a serious contender for the Republican nomination. Trump won this weekend in South Carolina and Libé says the nightmare has become a reality. Part of the problem, according to the left-leaning French daily, is that the conservative vote in the United States is too divided. There are still six Republican candidates in the running and that's preventing any serious political reaction to a man who is racist, sexist and downright obnoxous.

He has promised to build a wall separating the United States from Mexico and is in favour of the use by the CIA of the form of torture known as waterboarding.

Right-wing Le Figaro suggests that Marco Rubio, the young senator from Florida who came second in South Carolina, seems to be the best hope the Republicans have of avoiding the crucifying embarrassment of having a complete idiot as their White House contender.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Le Figaro also looks at the primary election due to be held to choose the right-wing challenger in next year's French presidential election.

The paper says the conservative candidates are characterised by an unashamed liberalism, promising to free up the economy, lessen the burden on business, end the 35-hour working week and abolish the ISF tax which, it believes, unfairly targets rich people.

The French Republicans have clearly learnt nothing from their American brothers, since there is an absolute gang of contenders for the job of being candidate and the infighting has already shown signs of being run on the rules normally associated with street-fighting rather than political rivalry.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, former party chief Jean-François Copé and former prime minister François Fillon, all in the running for the job of challenger, are like a bag of cats. Only their respective legal teams are on speaking terms and even they keep it to monosyllables.

The day's other big front-page story concerns the reform of the French unemployment benefit system, which the "social partners" - the government, the employers and the workers - are to start discussing today, with a view to putting a new agreement in place by the end of June.

The problem is that, as the number of those out of work goes on rising, the financial pressure on the system rises too. And the government wants to make savings. There are plenty of alternatives to the current system, says La Croix, but they won't all be to the liking of all factions in the ruling Socialist Party. The crucial questions are as much political as they are financial. The debate will be delicate, to say the least of it.

Communist L'Humanité gives some indication of the tone with a main headline yoking together Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls and the bosses' union, the Medef, saying they are going to war against the unemployed, not against unemployment. Harsh words.

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