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France

French press review 22 September 2018

media

Tough times ahead as the French government tells the bosses and trade unions to shave a further four billion euros off the social security budget. Drink kills. Do you know where the kingdom of eSwatini is?

The French government hopes to save nearly four billion euros from the social security budget over the next three years.

The announcement was made yesterday, just before the bosses and trade union chiefs sit down with the labour minister Muriel Pénicaud to thrash out the details.

Both business and union leaders have criticised what they call the "budgetary logic" of the savings scheme. The bosses have asked for time to consider the proposals. The unions may refuse even to discuss the terms offered. They're to announce a decision next week.

The unemployment benefit scheme in France is jointly run by the business leaders and the unions. It currently has debts of more than 35 billion euros.

Le Monde quotes a spokesman for the small and medium business confederation as saying the proposed reform is back-to-front since it sets an amount to be saved without doing anything to reduce the number of those requiring unemployment benefit.

The trade unions have pointed out that more than one billion euros each year is a lot to save, especially when taken in tandem with savings agreed under the last reform.

Let them cross the street and find a job

Right-wing daily Le Figaro also gives front-page prominence to the savings plan, saying the unions are already crying foul.

Le Figaro says the government's real aim is not to save money. It is, and here they quote Minister Pénicaud herself, "to fight unemployment by supporting the creation of lasting jobs which will answer the needs of businesses."

But there's no concealing the fact that huge savings are being demanded. And, with unemployment figures virtually frozen at over 9 percent of the active population, and economic growth slower than had been hoped, no one is particularly optimistic.

One of the proposals to be discussed is a system under which those out of work would get less benefit the longer they were on the dole. The government says this would encourage people to get out and find work. The unions think it's just a way of penalising those who are already under huge social and financial pressure.

Le Figaro's readers are clearly not concerned. There have been 32,000 votes in this morning's poll asking readers of the conservative daily if they favour the introduction of diminishing benefits. Sixty-seven percent say yes.

Beware the demon drink!

The same Le Figaro carries bad news for those of us who enjoy the odd pint.

According to the latest report from the World Health Organisation, the demon drink kills no fewer than three million people every year. That means that alcohol ends more lives prematurely than Aids, tuberculosis and violence combined.

Drinking alcohol exposes consumers to at least 200 separate serious health risks, ranging from digestive disorders to depression.

It is estimated that 2.3 billion people worldwide are regular drinkers of alcohol.

New name, same old elections

There were parliamentary elections yesterday in eSwatini. Le Monde says the event passed off peacefully, without anything major at stake and without a great show of enthusiasm from the African kingdom's half-million voters.

eSwatini, in case you didn't know, is the new name for Swaziland, the southern African country completely surrounded by South Africa, and which this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence.

Le Monde says the election was almost invisible. No crowds, no meetings, no posters.

Which is not surprising in a country where political parties have been banned since 1973.

The prime minister and the rest of the cabinet are named by the king, as are the kingdom's judges and senior civil servants. The king even gets to choose ten of the 69 deputies who sit in parliament. The candidate for the remaining seats are chosen by local chiefs, all themselves appointed by the king.

Two-thirds of Swatis live on less than two euros per day. The country has the highest proportion of Aids sufferers in the world.

Le Monde reports that the election system is impeccable . . . full-colour voting papers with photos of the candidates, a computerised voter register, a free and fair modern system. All that's missing is a real choice of candidates.

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