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Trump visit and Jupiter returns to human life

Editorialistes (opinion writers) hold a major role in the French press. Here, in a new regular column French journalist Paul de Villepin examines recent ‘hot topics’ which have featured in the columns of the country’s media

July was dominated by the French national holiday, which is inaccurately known as ‘Bastille Day’ in English. Contrary to popular belief, 14 juillet commemorates the ‘Fête de la Fédération’ – which took place a year after ‘Bastille Day’. 

This 14 juillet, Emmanuel Macron invited US President Donald Trump to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first US soldiers arriving in France to join Allied forces in World War I.

Despite Mr Trump’s unpopularity in France, writers unanimously praised Mr Macron’s diplomatic move, in which he has positioned himself as the United States’ main interlocutor in Europe.

This unexpected visit seems to have paved the way for a better relationship than could have been predicted following the death-grip handshake the two presidents shared last May.

Johan Hufnagel, from the centre-left Libération, underlined that, “even though offering Trump all the Republican pomp might be embarrassing, one has to admit that every attempt to change the isolationist views of the American President is by definition a good idea”.

He added: “Should it only make him change his mind on global warming and thus on the Paris agreement, Trump is worth all the clichés.”

The presse quotidienne régionale (local press) also saluted ‘Macron’s diplomatic success’.

The daily Nouvelles d’Alsace, however, noted that, if Macron has so far put in a faultless performance on the international stage, the French now expect him to do the same much closer to home. Meanwhile, Le Courrier Picard reminded readers that, in 2008, Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was France’s ‘prestigious’ guest at the military parade held on the Champs-Elysées.

Mr Macron’s gesture is seen as significantly symbolic. The Journal de la Haute-Marne said: “Let’s see if this meeting will bear fruit. In other words: will Trump support us in forthcoming international negotiations?”


Olympic ambitions

Another topic sparking mostly positive reactions across the press was the announcement that Paris was to host the Olympic Games either in 2024 or 2028.

The editor in chief of the French catholic daily La Croix, Guillaume Goubert, applauded Paris’ bid supported by “a woman from the left, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, a woman from the right, Valérie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France region, and framed by a centrist president”. 

Goubert considered that “this French unity bodes well for a country and a world recently bloodied by several terror attacks”.

Le Courrier Picard, La Charente Libre, La Montagne and other regional outlets described the deal as a major success, but expressed concern about the financial impact such a massive event could have on the country’s economy.

Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace summed it up perfectly: “On paper, everything seems wonderful. But let’s bear in mind it was also the case for Athens, London and Rio, cities where the Games cost astonishingly more than announced.”

Finally, even if odds-makers have given Paris a 75% chance of being awarded the 2024 Games, some éditorialistes – who still recall how London beat Paris to the 2012 Games -  have advised the French not to celebrate prematurely.

Without doubt, the Paris Olympics will be vigorously discussed in the French press for the next seven years or, depending on what happens on September 13, when the host cities for the two Games are formally announced, 11 years.


Battle lines

After the announcement of a €870million cut in military spending, a standoff between President Macron and French military chief General Pierre de Villiers erupted. The spat climaxed in mid-July when General de Villiers resigned.

Political commentators described the dispute as a ‘serious crisis’. “Both Macron and de Villiers have lost,” said Christophe Barbier of the weekly L’Express and news channel BFMTV. The commentator, easily recognisable by the red scarf he wears at all times, added: “In this row, the best interests of the nation should have prevailed.”

Guillaume Tabard, from the centre-right Le Figaro, the oldest national daily in France, titled his column Jupiter returns to the human world. This allusion to the President’s new nickname in the press reflects worries that Mr Macron is trying to build a ‘saviour myth’.


Le Tour bragging rights

The world followed the Tour de France in July, a perfect occasion for picturesque villages to be drawn to the world’s attention. Each stage of the race attracts up to five million viewers on French TV and is broadcast in 190 countries – deserved reward for an event in which “racing cyclists write history with their legs and their feet, in such a brave and unexpected way that it equals every literary style,” L’Eclair des Pyrénées said.

Finally, L’Alsace proudly stated “Le Tour is a showcase for France, its landscapes, its architectural jewels and its tourism […] an event that all of Europe envies.”

But the fact remains that – by the finish on the Champs-Elysées, it turned out that France envies Britain and winner Chris Froome. The last time a Frenchman won the tour de France was in 1985.

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