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French press review 20 October 2017


The ongoing struggle between separatist Catalonia and the Spanish central government in Madrid continues to dominate the French front pages, with most commentators suggesting the conflict has now gone far enough. And four English pensioners enthralled a crowd of 40,000 French spectators in Paris last night.

Le Monde gives pride of place to the ongoing wrestling match between Madrid and Barcelona on the independence of Catalonia.

The Spanish government's deadline for clarification of the situation has passed. No satisfactory answer has been received, so Madrid is now planning to suspend the region's autonomy.

That suspension, which would require an absolute majority in the Spanish senate before it could be put into effect, would give Madrid control over Catalan education, health services, police and finances, currently administered by the region itself.

The Spanish ruling party has a majority in the Senate and has been assured of the support of the Socialist Party and centrists. But the procedure will take at least two weeks to put in place.

The separatists have responded by warning that any interference with their current autonomy will be followed by an immediate declaration of independence.

Right-wing Le Fiagro notes that the Spanish government is getting into deep waters by threathening to suspend Catalan autonomy, a move which has never been attempted since Spain's broadly decentralised consititution was inaugurated in 1978.

Since there's no precedent, it's hard to know what might happen next.

A game of chicken being played for high stakes

Left-leaning Libération says the two sides are playing chicken, each trying to bluff the other.

Libé says the strategy of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a simple and determined insistence on a respect for the law. He wants the separatists to play by the rules laid down in the Spanish constitution. But Rajoy does not want to look like the leader of an oppressive state machine and so has allowed the Catalan separatists to get away with various illegal votes, including the referendum on independence. Which leaves him trapped in his own legal web: unless the Catalan leaders come out and say that they refuse to respect the Spanish constitution, then Rajoy has to continue to apply the relevant laws. That's why the government has had to move to withdraw Catalonia's autonomy, Libération argues.

The Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont faces a different problem. He was elected on a promise of working for independence but he has to avoid any "treachery against the fatherland". His problem is to balance the energy and impatience of the 2.3 million Catalans who voted in the independence referendum earlier this month and the need to obey the law of a country from which he wishes to become independent.

A war of big weapons, without winners

Both Rajoy and Puigdemont have the political equivalent of an atomic bomb, says Libération: Rajoy the removal of autonomy; the Catalan leader a unilateral declaration of independence.

As in all atomic conflicts, there are likely to be few survivors and no winners.

Already the losers are lining up. Libé notes that 800 businesses, banks and energy consortia have already fled Catalonia. If it has been Spain's most dynamic region, it is also the most heavily indebted, currently owing Madrid 52 billion euros.

And the row is having a bad effect on overall growth, Spain's rate already showing a loss of about one third of a percent, or 13 billion euros.

Yesterday the Spanish economy minister was in catastrophic form, warning that what we have seen so far is only the thin end of the wedge.

Ancient Stones survive Paris concert

There are other things happening in the world.

The Rolling Stones played in Paris last night, 53 years after their first ever appearance in the French capital. None of the old guys keeled over and died on stage, quite an achievement when you add up the ages of Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood - they have 293 years on their combined clocks and not all of those years were free of drink, drugs and other life-shortening experiences.

Le Monde describes Keith Richards as having a face mummified by wrinkles, a cigarette permanently blazing and a bandana to conceal the fact that he's practically bald. Despite all that he was, says Le Monde, in hilarious form. His guitar playing was often inspired, often plain bad. But the crowd loved it.

And I love Le Monde's bizarre description of metronomic drummer Charlie Watts as, "a sort of François Mitterrand with drum sticks." The French former president would probably have been amused, if puzzled.

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