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France

French weekly magazine review 13 March 2016

media DR

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron explains what he wants for the future of France. Was Paris wise to award the top national honour to a Saudi crown prince? And what does philosopher Michel Onfray think about politics, religion and the common man?

We'll start this morning with L'Express, which launches its new look with a cover featuring French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron.

In an exclusive interview, the minister offers to tell us what he wants for 2017, a year which will see both presidential and parliamentary elections here in France. Macron wants nothing less than total change. It is impossible to improve on what we've got, he says. The country must be completely reinvented. Wow!

Business needs to be encouraged with lower taxes and fewer fixed charges, and companies in trouble should be allowed "adjust" their staff levels.

Macron seems to believe that France has the capacity to return to serious industrial competitivity over the next decade but only at the cost of some very deep changes. Unfortunately, he doesn't explain how any government short of dictatorship is going to be able to overcome the conservative determination of the trade unions and make such a revolution possible.

Life without a job for life

L'Obs, formerly Le Nouvel Observateur, gives front-page prominence to another young Frenchman, at the opposite end of the conventional success spectrum from Emmanuel Macron.

His name is Aurélian Petitfrère, he's 28, has never drawn the dole, has never had a long-term contract and is representative of a generation of French workers who have to live with the fact that eight out of every 10 jobs on offer today come in the form of short-term contracts. The job for life is a thing of the past.

A more flexible labour market would, indeed, be a good thing, says LObs, but not if the sole beneficiaries are the employers.

A question of honour

The Saudi Arabian royal family is back in the news.

Weekly satirical paper Le Canard Enchaîné says there was clearly an attempt by the French presidency to conceal the recent award of a Légion d'honneur to Saudi Crown Prince and current Interior Minister Mohamed ben Nayef.

The Légion d'honneur is one of the republic's top awards, normally associated with proven heroism, brilliant artistic achievement, a lifetime commitment to the fundamental values of the republic.

The problem is Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record, with 71 executions by decapitation so far this year and with internet figure and Sakharov Prize winner Raif Badawi currently recovering from the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes, imposed because he had the temerity to criticise the political and religious status quo in the desert kingdom.

And then there's the Saudis' treatment of women.

But business is business. Airbus is hoping to sell 10-billion-euros-worth of planes to the Saudis and there's a three-billion-euro contract for French arms in the pipeline. Which is enough to persuade the powers that be in Paris to overlook the excesses of the rulers in Riyadh.

Are our allies' allies our allies?

The weekly magazine Marianne looks at the same story under the headline "A dishonour", suggesting that there's an even darker side to French toadying. It has long been clear, says Marianne, that Riyadh has been a major source of finance for the jihadist groups fighting to dislodge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. What is anything but clear are the long-term ambitions of some of these groups, once they have dislodged him.

Onfray on Islam

The French philosopher Michel Onfray is back on a weekly's front page. Seven days ago, L'Express was asking if the man deserved to be burned at the stake; this morning his latest books Principles of Social Atheism and How to Think about Islam earn him an exclusive interview in Le Point.

He's a disarming sort of fellow, for a philosopher. He claims that insulting references to him by other French intellectuals as the common man's thinker are the greatest compliment he has ever received. He's happy to be a populist, without wanting to be popular.

Onfray further complicates matters when he explains politics and religion by saying "Left-wing thinkers have to support the right when it is under attack, just as atheists have a duty to defend religion when it is under pressure."

Left-wing fratricide?

Le Figaro Magazine is happy to give the front-page honours to a skewerful of Socialist figures, suggesting that Prime Minister Manuel Valls, President François Hollande, Lille Mayor Martine Aubry and Macron are destroying one another and the Socialist project as they struggle for precedence in a party which is drifting without real leadership.

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