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France

French press review 2 March 2016

media DR

You can have it political or climatological, local or international, but chaos is the only item on this morning's menu. Refugees continue to pour into Greece. Paris faces the long-term risk of a major flooding catastrophe. And the ruling socialist majority continues to be sharply divided on the reform of labour law.

You can have it political or climatological, but chaos is the only item on this morning's menu.

Le Monde's main headline says the refugee crisis has brought Greece to the brink of collapse.

Libération wonders if Paris is about to sink under the waves of a massive flood.

And both right-wing Le Figaro and communist L'Humanité look at continuing reaction to the government's attempts to reform French labour law.

Let's start with the flooding, as the French capital prepares for next week's exercise which will simulate the situation in Paris in the event of a dramatic rise in the level of the River Seine.

This sort of thing has happened before, notably in the winter of 1910 when an 8.5 metre flood saw French MPs forced to leave the National Assembly in rowing boats. The problem, according to Libé, is that the consequences of a repeat of those conditions would bring the modern city to its knees, cutting transport services and roads, drowning electrical equipment and forcing massive power cuts.

Worse says the left-leaning daily, nobody seems particularly concerned at the prospect despite the fact that a repeat of the freakish conditions of 1910 is certain, sooner rather than later.

The paper's editorial widens the debate by asking how well France's sixty nuclear reactors are protected against the extreme conditions made ever more likely by global warming. We need to stop playing with the risk, says Libé, and learn to better understand what exactly is at stake.

Greece faces a different kind of catastrophe as tens of thousands of refugees find themselves trapped there following the closure of the so-called Balkan route through Macedonia. Athens reckons that it could be obliged to deal with as many as 70,000 homeless, helpless people over the next four weeks and has asked the European Commission for 450 million euros to feed and house them.

At the other end of the refugee trail, in the French port city of Calais, the clearance of the southern sector of the huge shanty town known as the Jungle continues, despite tension between the "residents" . . . 800 according to the police, 3,450 according to groups working with the refugees . . . and the authorities.

The problem is that the solutions proposed . . . either move into temporary dwellings in converted freight containers, or be bussed to refugee shelters elsewhere in France, or move into the tent city run by the civil security operation . . . don't answer the crucial question for the majority of those in the Jungle who want nothing more nor less than to escape across the Channel to England.

And then there's that little-loved labour bill, broadly intended to simplify a Kafkaesque conglomeration of often conflicting statutes and make it easier for French employers to take on staff.

Right-wing Le Figaro says Prime Minister Manuel Valls is trying to organise a dignified retreat in the face of an angry reaction to the proposals from many of his socialist colleagues.

Valls says the government has postponed the consideration of the bill in order to improve the legislation and answer the serious questions posed by skeptics. He denies any attempt at a face-saving retreat. Opponents of the reform have promised to use the parliamentary debate and amendements to turn the bill into an empty shell, while the so-called socialist rebels are demanding that the bill be withdrawn so that it can be completely re-drafted.

Le Figaro's editorial fulminates against those benighted trade unionists who insist that protecting the rights won by their great-great-grandfathers is more important than creating jobs for young people.

The facts have been clear for over thirty years, says Le Figaro. The conservative determination of the unions has led to record unemployment, record taxation, record debt, record hopelessness. Neighbouring countries which have had the courage to reform are close to full employment. France continues to believe that the best way to improve the situation is to do nothing.

Says Le Figaro, the president and government to be elected next year will need enormous courage to face down the forces of stasis.

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