I write for Bonjour Paris and this week focus on an update on the French strike situation and the government pension reform. It looks like the strike action is down, after relatively low turnout on Oct. 28, but Nov. 6 strikes are still planned, and some public transport will still be disrupted. For flights, best to check with your airline company beforehand that your flight is still on schedule. I will update my blog accordingly too. Excerpts below:
Logistically, how is France faring now? Oil refineries are opening back up, as workers are heading back to their jobs after strikes blocked the refineries around the country. All 12 refineries will be open now. But as of Thursday there were still about 20% of service stations with a shortage of fuel, thereby impacting those taking the long Toussaint weekend for travel.
There were minor disturbances on the transport systems of the major cities in France and on the SNCF railways, but overall there was less action this time around. Indeed, even the liberal Libération conceded a weak turnout, saying the movement “was on leave” but that the unions would likely strike back again. But conservative Figaro says that given the low turnout, there are doubts about the momentum of the movement. Figaro also put out a great graphic comparing retirement systems across countries.
So far, strike action is still planned for Saturday Nov. 6. I will update my blog on the strike situation for transport, and you can also find information on SNCF here and other info from France 24. If you are flying, call your airline company for specific information on flight cancelations and delays. For public transport options from Paris airports to downtown, check out this site, knowing that during strikes, it is best to avoid the RER B and opt for another choice.
To end, I leave you with two insightful pieces – albeit from an “Anglo-Saxon” perspective – about the French strikes. The first one from BBC News compares strikers in France to those in other countries. Then The Economist writes that strike action is less powerful than it used to be: “Mr Sarkozy took a bet that there was a silent majority prepared to accept change, however much they disliked it. It looks like paying off.”
In this month’s edition of Taking Up Residence, I write an article about the basics of French business, legal entities and the main features of the principal models available. You can download the latest newsletter from this site as well as the LinkedIn group Expat Web among the discussions.
My article is pp. 5-7 and includes a link to my page on business in France, but I highly encourage you to read the whole newsletter, as you will it is full of pertinent advice from a wide variety of experts. Taking Up Residence consistently puts out quality information, and I’m happy to collaborate with them on this France project. Thanks to Michiel Schokking for putting this great issue together, and thank you to the other writers. See the message below.
Greetings and welcome to the October edition of our (PDF) newsletter which can be downloaded here: http://www.takingupresidence.com/download/EXPATWEB-OKT2010.pdf
This month, we profile France. A combination of old world charm, unique cultural heritage, and modern sophistication lures millions of tourists from all over the world to its borders each year. For professional expats, steady economic progress and a strong social support system feeds the attraction. To read more about life in France, go to the TakingUpResidence website: http://www.takingupresidence.com/france.html.
In this issue…
–Senior Editor, Diana Heeb Bivona offers a few French business culture tidbits in ‘Formality and Respect are Valued’;
–Elsa Guillais and Rachel Ryder of Emigra Ogletree Worldwide provide an overview of French immigration law in ‘Recent Changes in French Immigration Policies’;
–Michael Barrett an American expat living in France and creator of the blog, American Expat in France offers insights for entrepreneurs regarding ‘Doing Business in France‘; and
–Attorney Haywood Wise takes a closer look at commercial immigration in ‘Professional – Commercial Immigration to France Favors Admission of Skilled Entrepreneurs – Recent Reforms’
I write a piece in this week’s Bonjour Paris newsletter about how life continues almost as usual in France despite the strikes. So if you’re planning a trip, you’ll be glad to not cancel it.
I found this BBC article by Matthew Price, former US correspondent and current Europe correspondent, to be especially insightful, from the perspective of a neutral Brit regarding Americans and France. Comments welcome. Excerpts below….
What would Americans think of the French strike?
Saturday, 23 October 2010
By Matthew Price
BBC News, France
”For the last three years I have been based in the US. And the only protests I have covered, the only ones vocal enough to have been worth reporting on, have been angry mobs demanding the government stop spending and get out of their lives.
Now, just one week into my new role as Europe correspondent, I am faced with angry mobs demanding the exact opposite – an end to government cut backs and a promise that the state will continue to provide for them. Talk about a change of scene…..
…Most French know the world has changed since the days of the all-embracing welfare state..They know the age of austerity inevitably implies an age of personal responsibility….And personal responsibility is something the Americans I have lived among for the last three years have adopted as a way of life…”
This just in…after all the action these past few weeks, the government was able to get the bill passed by the Senate this evening. This note from BBC News below. Also check out this article from conservative Le Figaro and also this one from leftist Libération.
They have adopted the bill, and the reform will likely be voted on definitively by Tuesday or Wednesday next week, bringing this into law perhaps within the week. BBC gives another great article here about what the reform and strikes mean for Sarkozy and France. We will see how the planned strikes for Oct. 28 and Nov. 6 play out…
“The French Senate has passed a controversial pension reform bill, which has caused a series of strikes and protests around France. The senators approved President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, and it could become law as early as next week.
Mr Sarkozy says the measure is necessary to reduce the deficit. But hundreds of thousands have protested against what they see as an attack on their rights.
Senators passed the motion to raise the retirement age by 177 votes to 153, after the government used a special measure known as a guillotine to cut short the debate on the bill…”
According to Lyon newspaper Le Progrès, order is being enforced in downtown Lyon by over 700 special operations SWAT police with water canons, as the violent clashes of recent days have calmed down. However there were still protests and demonstrations today, disrupting traffic on the TCL public transport system. For those of my friends in Lyon, feel free to comment on developments there. I hope the situation improves, it’s a wonderful city I cherish that is getting a bad image abroad now thanks to thugs taking advantage of protests that are founded on economic nonsense; bon courage everyone. I’ll update you on developments.
The unions have announced two new “days of action” for Thursday Oct. 28 and Saturday Nov. 6; that’s right, a weekend again. I’ll be sure to update you more on developments as they come along. For now, I can share with you a site against the strikes, Stop La Grève, who reports being attacked by unionists at the Reims train station. Thanks for the violence, your undermining your own cause.
So “la révolution” continues. More like an increasingly violent rebellion lead by stubborn individuals who do not seem to understand the principles of economics. But la vie continue, and the government will eventually win. I certainly understand frustration with Sarkozy and his administration, as they have not been exactly stragetic in their communications, and financial corruption within undermines their image (like l’affaire Bettencourt, etc.) but the underlying truth is that retirement reform is needed, and 62 is quite a modest start. Here is a guide about how the reform will likely affect you.
President Sarkozy is still planning on facilitating the labor market to boost employment, so those concerned with unemployment are right to raise their voices, but they should not be disrupting the economic activity and well-being of the country; there are other means of communication than provocation in the street and taking the country hostage. For now, here is an update on the situation…
Violent incidents continue between protesters and police in Lyon’s downtown Presqu’île district, and you can see more coverage of this here and here by the local Lyon newspaper Le Progrès. The TCL public transport system is still shut down in the downtown area, for security measures. According to a Lyon Le Progrès poll, 65% of respondents think that the strike movement will not end soon. You can see pictures of the Lyon action here.
Meanwhile in Marseille, the airport was blocked this morning by strikers in addition to other disturbances throughout the city (public transport and ports blocked, garbage not collected…pictures from Marseille courtesy of BBC.) This action and others have disrupted daily life for many French, and even Lady Gaga has decided to postpone her Paris shows from Oct. 22-23 to Dec. 19-20. On the Paris RER suburban rail network, there were spontaneous disruptions throughout Thursday despite overall improvements on the RATP public transport system (with some disruptions, look under “traffic”) and the SNCF national railway system (though there are still delays). Fuel shortages still persist, with over 25% of gas stations empty, almost 2000 more short on products and this could disrupt Toussaint (All Saints) vacation weekend Nov. 1. But the situation is gradually improving with government forces intervening to gain access to fuel depots.
Meanwhile, national buffoon and desparately in need of a haircut, Bernard Thibault (leader of the CGT union) has called for a new day of strikes next week. They are planning to announce the 1st day for next week, either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and the 2nd day of strikes would be either Saturday Oct. 30 or Sat. Nov. 6. Now they’re striking on the weekends, that’s just great. If they strike on the holiday weekend, there just might be an insurrection against the SNCF.
Students, both university and high school, are becoming increasingly involved in the strikes and demonstrations (and violence), with hundreds of schools blockaded throughout the country and up to 10 universities blocked as well.
What is happening in the government?
They are trying to accelerate the reform currently being debated in the Senate, with the text to be reviewed by Friday evening, 254 amendments awaiting validation at the time of publication, and a commission of 7 National Assembly Deputies and 7 Senators, to vote on the entirety by next Thursday Oct. 28th at the latest. They have shown a willingness to discuss certain measures, notably a point system for pensions, to please unions like the CFDT, but this does not satisfy everyone.
The New York Times covers this story well.
I’ll keep you updated.
Following yesterday’s big day of “action” around the country against the retirement reform proposals, the Paris metro and bus system is running on normal schedule, mostly (“normal ou quasi normal” according to their site). But check the “traffic” part and you’ll see that suburban and Ile de France regional trains are partially disrupted, often running at 50%. Also, 30 flights were cancelled this morning from Paris Orly.
Lyon’s TCL transport system is disrupted today, with no metro on the Presqu’ile downtown area due to clashes. Try to stay out of that area. You can get more inside info on Lyon at Le Progres (Lyon newspaper) site.
There are some SNCF train disruptions in France and with connecting trains to other countries (like no overnight trains tonight between France & Italy and France & Germany…). TGV’s to and from Paris are running 2 out of 3, and TGV’s outside of Paris at 50%. More details on that site, France 24′s survival guide and Figaro’s guide.
These past couple days have been marred by violence in Lyon and parts of Paris area, among other places, between youth and police. France 24 reports on this. They also have some pictures from Lyon here.
President Sarkozy is calling for the strikers to “be responsible” and recognized that although the reform is difficult, it is necessary, and his government had included special measures for specific work cases such as those who started work early and those in particularly arduous jobs. The reform vote has been delayed until Thursday, and a poll by Figaro finds that nearly 70% want to see the reform passed as soon as possible. (Note: Figaro is more conservative. Nouvel Obs is more leftist and has a poll where 62% of respondents want to continue the strikes).
Meanwhile Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux is firing back at thugs who erupted in violence yesterday and today, saying they will not be left unpunished.
As thousands of gas stations have run dry, the government is now freeing up fuel depots with force of special riot police similar to a SWAT team, but some remain blocked by extremist strikers who like taking the country hostage for their own interests. Flights in and out of France are said to be carrying enough fuel for the return journey.
High school students and youths are still calling for protest today, even though the reform is in their interest. They should be screaming “we don’t want a pension” as they strike. I understand concerns about unemployment, but that can be addressed by other measures. They are mad at Sarkozy for what they see as extravagance and wastefulness on the part of the government, which is in part true. But that does not mean pension reform is not necessary. BBC looks into this with an insightful special called “children of the revolution.”
Following on my post about Oct. 19 planned strikes, they are well underway across the country. You can see specials in New York Times as well as here too with pictures, BBC News, Libération, and Figaro. BBC even has Q&A about the strikes. English translations of French press commentary can be read here. BBC has pictures here.
France 24 has a travel survival guide posted as well, stating that disruptions could continue for the rest of the month. I’ll be sure to keep you informed.
Paris metro and suburban rail line updates can be found on the RATP website. At the time of this posting, metro line traffic was getting back to normal, but bus lines were still disrupted. RER trains are running 2 out of 3 for the RER A, 1 out of 2 for RER B (the Charles de Gaulle Airport line).
You can see the status of your trains in Ile de France (Paris region) for RER trains on this website. You can get more info on SNCF trains here. You can find information for other metro areas transport below, mostly in French. You can see the status of departures and arrivals in the main train stations at Gares en Mouvement website.
Aéroports de Paris (which runs Orly, Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais airports) said to expect possible delays, cancellations and other inconveniences on Oct. 19 and after. Check with your airlines, as some were asked to cancel flights.
Other major cities and their transport systems below with relevant updates:
Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille, Nice, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Brest, Caen, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Montpellier
You should know as well that almost 3000 gas stations at supermarkets (50% of supermarkets) are almost or completely out of fuel, as fuel depots are blocked around the country by strikers. 4000 stations are being affected by a slowdown in provisions, but François Fillon says there should be a “return to normal in the next four to five days.” Sarkozy said he will respond “with force” to get the economy back going. In the meantime, here are some tips about how to find a station.
BBC posted this info from the IEA concerning the fuel shortage:
-France, like other European countries, has at least 90 days of oil reserves
-Emergency reserves are held by oil industry and last for 30 days
-Strategic reserves are controlled by the government and last for 60 days
-The reserves are divided between crude and “oil products” – petrol, diesel and heating oil
-The reserves are held at France’s 12 refineries and 100 oil depots
It seems the participation at midday is down from last week, but it is still quite significant. President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister François Fillon are determined to pass the reform, with Sarkozy calling it his “duty”. The reform is set to be voted on by the French Sénat tomorrow. Figaro has a fantastic, detailed chart of what the reform proposes. As you will see, fonctionnaires remain the aristocracy of France, weighing on pensions even more.
In addition to transport, some schools are closed as well as the post offices. 400 high schools are blocked on strike around the country (including the one next to my apartment), with violence breaking out at some like in Nanterre. There were some quite vulgar signs and banners that I will not detail here, but one could say that the lycéens are not happy. Youth feel like raising the retirement age will be to their detriment, not only for working longer but also for leaving older people in jobs that they feel could prevent them from getting jobs. But that is only if the economy cannot diversify and produce jobs for young graduates.
Since Socialist president François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age from 65 to 60 in 1981, the unemployment rate has averaged 9.5% from 1983 to 2010, based on many factors including especially rigid labor laws that make it costly for companies to hire (payroll taxes can reach almost 50%, so that for an employee making 2000 euros/month, the company is paying about 4000 euros). So while I understand the worries of students who want to secure a job after their studies, I certainly do not think raising the retirement age will take away their jobs. How many 20 year-olds take jobs that 60 year-olds take, anyway?
What France needs is to raise the retirement age, and 62 is a reasonable level to start with (it will go higher after), and it needs to encourage private industry, venture capital, entrepreneurship and reduce costs for companies to give them incentives to hire. There is a traditionally anti-business sentiment in France, akin to the anti-government feelings in the US. But I think in the past couple years our countries have started to bridge that gap slowly – but there remains undeniable cultural disparity.
A couple of interesting polls give insight into the situation. The first one asks “Do you think the strikes and protests are beginning to lose steam?”, and over 58% said yes, but this was conducted by the Figaro, which is center-right. The second one, still by Figaro, asks if the government should use force to gain access to fuel depots that are blocked. The result? An overwhelming 80% said yes. Indeed, Sarkozy said that he would do this, because the economy is being hit by these strikes
Figaro TV news is at the bottom of this posting to give you an inside look at the violence between youth and police. I’ll update this week as we go along. Good luck!