Fears that 'dangerous' official decree paves way for concreting of French regions

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The French authorities have quietly issued a decree to state officials in some regions that allows them to depart from the normal rules when it comes to projects concerned with the environment, farmland, forests, local development projects and urban policy. The rules are being relaxed as part of an experiment to give decision makers in certain regions greater flexibility. But lawyers representing environmental groups say the move could open the way to more projects that cause pollution and are harmful for the environment. One has called the decree 'absurd and dangerous'. Jade Lindgaard reports.

Emmanuel Macron, the Spin King

French President Emmanuel Macron. © Reuters French President Emmanuel Macron. © Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has enjoyed a headline-grabbing week of appearances, from hosting international CEOs in the sumptuous surrounds of the Palace of Versailles, to being feted by the world elite at the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, before touching down in rural France to woo the country’s agricultural sector. The packed agenda was the latest example of the young president’s skill in occupying the media agenda and promoting double-pronged policies that have anesthetised public opinion, argues Mediapart editor François Bonnet, along with political and economic correspondents Romaric Godin, Manuel Jardinaud and Ellen Salvi, in this joint analysis of Macron's impressive mastership of the art of spin.

The real agricultural crisis behind film on the naked farmers of Normandy

By Caroline Trouillet
Farm film star Sébastien Cœuré. © CT Farm film star Sébastien Cœuré. © CT

A recently-released film 'Normandie nue' or 'Naked Normandy' uses comedy to depict the crisis facing the world of farming in France. The movie, which stars 'The Intouchables' actor François Cluzet, features real farmers from a village in northern France who agree to strip naked for the film. But behind the film's slapstick moments the crisis and hardship are real enough. Caroline Trouillet met some of the farmers involved.

How Gucci boss was paid a fortune through Kering tax-dodge scheme

By and vittorio malagutti (L'Espresso) et jürgen dahlkamp (Der Spiegel)
Gucci bos Marco Bizzarri (left), actress Salma Hayek and her husband François-Henri Pinault in Milan in 2016. © Kering Gucci bos Marco Bizzarri (left), actress Salma Hayek and her husband François-Henri Pinault in Milan in 2016. © Kering

French giant luxury goods and haute couture group Kering mounted a tax avoidance scheme, validated by its chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault, to pay via a Luxembourg-registered firm the boss of its Italian subsidiary Gucci, Marco Bizzarri, who was domiciled for the purpose in Switzerland, according to confidential documents obtained by Mediapart and its partners in the journalistic consortium European Investigative Collaborations. The scheme, which began in 2010 when Bizzarri then headed another Kering subsidiary in Italy, Bottega Veneta, allowed both parties to avoid tens of millions of euros in potential tax payments, as Yann Philippin, with Vittorio Malagutti (from Italian weekly L'Espresso) and Jürgen Dahlkamp (from German weekly Der Spiegel) report.

Tunisia's fragile democracy shaken by revolt of the young

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Demonstrators in Tunis earlier this month demanding an end to new austerity measures. © L. B. Demonstrators in Tunis earlier this month demanding an end to new austerity measures. © L. B.

Austerity measures imposed in Tunisia at the start of the year in a new public finance law, and which follow a multi-billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund, sparked demonstrations across the country earlier this month that were marked by violence. The protests were mostly mounted by the younger population, particularly affected by rising living costs and unemployment. The unrest has rocked the government, whose authoritarian reaction has prompted some observers to draw parallels with the events that led to the downfall in 2011 of Tunisia’s former dictator, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Lilia Blaise reports from the capital Tunis.

The 'message' behind Macron's loan of the Bayeux Tapestry to Britain

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A section of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, wielding a club and encouraging the troops of William, Duke of Normandy during the Battle of Hastings. A section of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, wielding a club and encouraging the troops of William, Duke of Normandy during the Battle of Hastings.

During Emmanuel Macron’s first official visit to Britain last Thursday, when Brexit, defence cooperation and immigration policies topped the agenda, the French president also announced the loan to Britain of the famous Bayeux Tapestry, the nearly 70-metre long, 11th-century embroidered cloth of images and commentary that recounts the 1066 Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. Amid the many interpretations of Macron’s move, from simple goodwill gesture to tongue-in-cheek reminder of Britain’s continental roots, Joseph Confavreux turned to French university lecturer in mediaeval history Julien Théry for his analysis.

The senior French civil servants who helped with Le Pen's election campaign

By and David Dufresne
Marine Le Pen during the traditional New Year address to the French press in Paris, January 15th 2017. © Reuters Marine Le Pen during the traditional New Year address to the French press in Paris, January 15th 2017. © Reuters

French far-right Front National party leader Marine Le Pen was once tipped as the likely winner of last year’s presidential elections, sending shockwaves across Europe, before she finally lost to Emmanuel Macron. In the build-up of her campaign, and little known to the wider public, her policy programme was developed with the help of senior French civil servants, dubbed by her party as “night-time visitors” and whose names were kept secret. But in this joint investigation, Mediapart and Buzzfeed have obtained access to documents which reveal the true identities of several of them. They are nearly all graduates of France’s elite higher education schools and include former members of France’s Council of State and the French national audit body, along with a prefect and advisor to the director-general of the French gendarmerie, and a director of a major French construction firm. Marine Turchi and David Dufresne report.   

Environmentalists rejoice as France's 600m-euro Great West airport is finally abandoned

Activists occupying the site of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport celebrate on Wednesday after the government's decision to abandon the project. © Reuters Activists occupying the site of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport celebrate on Wednesday after the government's decision to abandon the project. © Reuters

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced on Wednesday that a controversial plan to build a major new airport near Nantes in north-west France, a project first mooted 50 years ago and which was bitterly opposed by environmentalists who prevented construction work from commencing by occupying the rural site, has been definitively abandoned. The decision ends decades of fudging by successive governments, infuriating supporters of the 600-million-euro project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes who argued it would have provided a much needed boost to the region’s economy.

Macron's migrant clampdown faces mounting opposition

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French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday visited the Channel port of Calais, which for years has been a magnet for thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East seeking a passage to Britain from makeshift camps set up around the town. While his presence was ostensibly to address the local crisis, Macron’s visit also served as a platform to present his government’s proposed toughening up of immigration laws. But the planned clampdown on so-called economic migrants, who face mass deportations, has met with outrage not only from organisations defending migrants’ rights, but also from Macron’s own allies.

Libyan funding: the new documents that threaten Sarkozy's former key aide

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The middleman Alexandre Djouhri has been released on bail by a court in London pending proceedings to extradite him to France. Examining magistrates in Paris investigating claims that Libyan regime money was used to finance Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign want to question Djouhri over crucial documents found at his Swiss home. Mediapart understands these show that the middleman did indeed oversee the payment of half a million euros of Libyan origin to President Sarkozy's most trusted lieutenant, Claude Guéant. Karl Laske and Fabrice Arfi report.

Libyan funding: Sarkozy clan's secret plan to clear man behind airliner bombing

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Security chief Abdullah Senussi  in August 2011, just before the fall of the Libyan regime under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. © Reuters Security chief Abdullah Senussi in August 2011, just before the fall of the Libyan regime under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. © Reuters

According to documents gathered by an elected official in Tripoli, in 2005 Nicolas Sarkozy's close friend and personal lawyer Thierry Herzog offered to get an arrest warrant and conviction against a senior Libyan official – who was blamed for a terrorist attack - quashed. The man in question, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's brother-in-law and security chief Abdullah Senussi, had been given a life prison sentence in his absence for masterminding the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airline DC10 passenger plane over Niger, in which 170 people lost their lives. The documents, seen by Mediapart, also show that Herzog was taken to Tripoli to discuss the affair by Francis Szpiner, the lawyer for the victims of the attack, though the latter has denied making the trip. The revelations point to a potential quid pro quo to explain why the Libyan regime would have been willing to help fund Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign, claims over which the former president is being investigated. Karl Laske and Fabrice Arfi report.

The dangers of Macron's planned law on 'fake news'

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At the start of the New Year President Emmanuel Macron told a gathering of journalists that his government was preparing a new law to clamp down on 'fake news' on social media. But already the French media are wondering whether an attack on 'fake news', however desirable, would not end up damaging freedom of information in general. Hubert Huertas looks at the pitfalls presented by the plan.

Lionel Messi, his 100 million-euros-a-season deal and his 'tax saving' charity

By and Raphaël Buschmann, Michael Wulzinger et Nicola Naber (Der Spiegel)
Hundred-million-a-year-man: Lionel Messi after a cup match against Celta Vigo on January 11th, 2018. © Albert Gea/Reuters Hundred-million-a-year-man: Lionel Messi after a cup match against Celta Vigo on January 11th, 2018. © Albert Gea/Reuters

Barcelona's star Lionel Messi has become the first footballer in the world to be on a 100-million-euros a year contract, according to documents supplied by whistle-blowing platform Football Leaks and revealed by Mediapart and other members of the journalistic consortium European Investigative Collaborations (EIC). They show that the Argentine player signed a four-year deal with the Catalan club worth more than 400 million euros to keep him at the club until 2021. Mediapart and the EIC can also reveal that Messi's club Barcelona helped him pay millions of euros in back taxes in relation to his children's charity after they were advised that some club donations to it should have been classified as salary payments. Yann Philippin, Rafael Buschmann, Michael Wulzinger, Nicola Naber (Der Spiegel) and Paula Guisado (El Mundo) report.

Three years on from the massacre, what has become of the 'spirit of Charlie'?

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Three years ago on January 11th, 2015, a series of massive marches were held across France to show solidarity with the victims of the murderous terror attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo four days earlier. Its theme, which went global, was “Je suis Charlie” - “I'm Charlie”. Last Saturday, January 6th, three groups organised a gathering in Paris under the title “Toujours Charlie” or “Still Charlie”. But as Joseph Confavreux reports, the event lacked both the caustic spirit of Charlie Hebdo and the collective spirit of the January 11th marches. Instead, he argues, it was more about the groups involved marking out a political and media niche for themselves.

How French intelligence tried to cover up failings over Catholic priest's murder

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One of Adel Kermiche's online messages before he killed Father Jacques Hamel in Normandy in July 2016. © Document Mediapart One of Adel Kermiche's online messages before he killed Father Jacques Hamel in Normandy in July 2016. © Document Mediapart

Local police intelligence officers became aware of the growing threatening online messages of one of the two jihadists who killed Catholic priest Father Jacques Hamel in Normandy in July 2016 five days before the attack, but the information was not passed on to the national French intelligence agency, Mediapart can reveal. When the police intelligence unit later discovered this delay they doctored the files in a bid to make it look as if their original discovery was only made on the day of the attack itself. The French prosecution services have now opened an investigation into the affair. As Matthieu Suc reports, this claim of a blunder and attempted cover-up will raise fresh questions over the effectiveness of France's counter-terrorism operations.