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French press review 23 April 2018


The first parliamentary debate on proposed changes to French immigration and asylum law comes to an end. And French President Emmanuel Macron embarks on a three-day official visit to Donald Trump's USA.

Le Monde's main headline informs us that the French parliament last night finally got to the end of the first debate on the proposed changes to immigration and asylum law.

The main impact of the new legislation will be to speed up the process of examining asylum applications, and also speed up the expulsion of those whose applications are rejected.

Le Monde says the epic seven-day debate recalled the 2014 parliamentary battle over the "Macron law" intended to improve French economic competitivity, or the "Homeric" struggles exactly five years ago on the question of marriage for everyone.

The centrist daily says the tense exchanges revealed a clash between two visions of France and the welcome the country should offer to immigrants.

Right-wing parliamentarians criticise the propositions for, notably, failing to make a clear and workable distinction between political refugees and economic immigrants.

Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front says the legislation "organises immigration", giving rights and privileges to foreigners that the government is incapable of guaranteeing for many poor French citizens.

The governing majority, with its own small group of dissenting voices, has condemned the critics for their willful and unacceptable confusion of asylum-seekers, refugees and would-be terrorists.

There will be no "solemn vote" - with the elaborate procedure that obliges as many MPs as possible to publicly declaim how they have voted - to mark the end of this first reading. Normally that takes place on the Tuesday after the end of discussions, when the number of MPs is generally at a maximum. The official reason for the decision to skip this symbolic vote is that the parliamentary spring holidays begin today.

The opposition, according to Le Monde, also sees the move as a way for the majority to conceal its own divisions from public view since deputies will not now have to stand up and be counted.

Emmanuel goes to America

Right-wing daily Le Figaro gives the front-page honours to Macron, whose three-day visit to the United States gets under way today.

The discussions between Trump and Macron should, suggests Le Figaro, enable the French leader to influence his US counterpart on several crucial issues.

What's wrong with the United States

Left-leaning Libération takes the occasion of the French president's trans-Atlantic trip to lift the lid on the "American nightmare".

An ever-widening gulf between rich and poor, an out-of-date electoral system and collapsing infrastructure are the most obvious bits that don't work very well.

Libé's editorial looks at the strangeness of an American society which, thanks to Hollywood, music and literature, we Europeans think we understand.

In fact, says the left-leaning paper, modern America is the last word in exoticism. The US legal system is obscure, the impact of religion unique for a modern democracy, behaviour a mix of libertinism and prudishness, the political scene Byzantine.

Thanks to the virtual absence of a social welfare system, life-expectancy, already lower than the European average, is in decline. A majority of Americans reject Darwin but accept a president who denies the reality of human-induced climate change. Can you call such a place civilised?

America is not, Libération insists, a "shithole country", quoting Trump's famous summary insult for nations which refuse to allign themselves with US interests.

The US gave Europe the money and military muscle to ensure peace after the World War II, has given the world Lincoln, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs. But it remains a nation of strange contradictions. We are fascinated, says Libé, by the American outline of the future. But, as Europeans, the left-leaning paper continues a tad pompously, we want something different.

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