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French press review 20 March 2017


What impact is tonight's television debate likely to have on the standings of the top five contenders? Guess which of the five has proposed the most workable and realistic economic policies? And what has US President Donald Trump got against Germany?

Right-wing Le Figaro assures us that the French presidential campaign starts today.

Which comes as a shock to those of us who are already fed up to the back teeth with pronouncements, programmes, protestation, plots and counterplots.

We are just 34 days away from voting in the first round and tonight will see the first televised debate, involving the top five of the 11 contenders.

Will a verbal scrum be enough to shift the status in the opinion polls, which have been locked for weeks on a share of the first-round lead for the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, and the centrist Emmanuel Macron. Then comes conservative François Fillon, wearing a lovely suit but trailing a worrying collection of judicial difficulties. And he's followed by the left-wing duo, Benoît Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both insisting they can win as solo acts, while every opinion poll suggests they are simply dividing the left-wing vote.

Le Figaro is not prepared to abandon Fillon as a hopeless case, despite the fact that he trails Macron and Le Pen by nearly 10 percent in the polls.

Thinktank likes Fillon

The right-wing paper reports that the liberal thinktank iFrap, the Foundation for Political and Administrative Research, which has been calculating the impact of the various candidates' economic policies, says Fillon is the one most likely to get France growing again, and reduce unemployment and the national debt.

iFrap was declared a "publicly useful" institution by prime ministerial decree in 2009. And you'd never guess who the prime minister was? François Fillon/. Surprise surprise! The foundation claims to be independent and is funded by individual contributions. Like some people's tailor's bills.

Emmanuel Macron's economic policies are considered "balanced" but his strategy is considered inadapted to the current crisis situation.

The other three big names - Hamon, Le Pen and Mélenchon - do not get favourable mention, mainly because they have all promised to increase state spending, a bad move from a liberal point of view.

Both Le Monde and La Croix give the honours to Hamon, the Socialist candidate who told a weekend meeting here in Paris that there were too many candidates representing the money party in the election race.

Mélenchon wants new constitution

The Communist Party daily L'Humanité looks back to Saturday and Mélenchon's march for a sixth republic. The hard-left candidate was hoping to draw a crowd of 80,000 supporters; the organisers say 130,000 showed up.

The paper says they were predominantly young. They heard that the environment is central to Mélenchon's programme, as is the fate of the French poor, many of whom are struggling to survive in an unjust system.

Chuck Berry, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel

Libération gives the front-page honours to Chuck Berry, the American rock and blues musician who died at the weekend in his native St Louis. He was 90 years old.

La Tribune looks at Donald Trump's assertion that Germany does not pay its share of the expense of running the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

Yesterday the German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said there was no account anywhere showing an outstanding German debt to the trans-Atlantic defence partnership. Trump claims that Germany is hiding behind the powerful but expensive military shield financed by the United States.

German defence spending is not exclusively devoted to Nato, the minister explained, saying that the military budget included UN and European peacekeeping missions, as well as the struggle against the Islamic State armed group. She called on the Nato allies to share the burden of defence spending fairly.

La Tribune says that this latest outburst from the US leader suggests that his meeting last Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel has done little to ease tensions between the two countries.

French language rule discriminatory

And the European Labour Commission has decided that the so-called Molière clause which would make the use of the French language obligatory on all publicly financed building projects is, in fact, discriminatory and contrary to European law.

Four French regions currently controlled by the right wanted to make French the exclusive language of those working for public contractors. They claim the move was to ensure greater onsite safety; critics of the move say it was clearly intended to prevent foreign nationals from taking jobs at lower rates than those paid to French workers.

EU Labour Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said that France won't solve its employment problem by trying to close the door to European workers.

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