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Strikes in France – what to know

France strikes - taken from The Economist (link below)

France strikes – taken from The Economist (link below)

Essential reading from The Economist (May 27)
Article here focuses on all that is going on in France.

Update May 27 from US Embassy Paris:

Full link to travel advisory

“…The following strikes have been announced for the week of May 30:

Rail – The national unions which represents rail workers renewed their call for strikes limiting rail services along the TVG, RER and SNCF networks. An “unlimited strike” is scheduled to start at 9 am on Tuesday, May 31 for a period of at least 24 hours.

Paris-area Public Transportation – The union representing the Paris metro area transportation (RATP) has called for an “unlimited strike” starting on June 2 of all public transportation services, including the Paris metro, buses, and RER trains.

Air – Air traffic controllers have also called for strikes Friday, June 3 to Sunday, June 5 which could result in delays or cancellations of flights originating in France…”

By now, you have probably heard that France has been undergoing rounds of strikes and protests over the past couple months. This is in large part due to proposed labor reforms. Of course most of you know that strikes and public outcry are a way of life in France that most people tend to accept with a shrug.

The Local France has an interesting piece on this cultural reality, as well as countless publications in the past including BBC and Slate. Even The Onion got in on the humor with a fake French protest image back in 2005.

But this time seems to be different: these are arguably the strikes with the most impact in 20 years. Taken with the ongoing “state of emergency” that France has put into place since the November terrorist attacks (and have extended), France has a palpable undercurrent of tension.

For now, what you should know about the strikes: 
These strikes are affecting transportation, oil refineries, nuclear power stations and more throughout the country. The BBC outlines the main points of the proposed reforms here along with more coverage of the action. I’ve laid those out at the end of this post.

The Economist also has an interesting piece on the strikes – anticipating action throughout the summer.

Another useful guide is from the great folks at The Local. Local resources in France for tracking news updates include the SNCF website, which currently states that traffic should start resuming to normal May 27 but to keep abreast of updates. Their travel agency Voyages SNCF also has a helpful resource for train travel updates.

You should also stay abreast of airline travel through your local airline. Aéroports de Paris does have general updates as well for Paris Orly and Paris CDG traffic.

BFM TV, Libération, France 24 and Le Monde are also great resources.

At the time of this being published, there have been clashes reported by protestors in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and other major cities. Your local embassy should be the best resource for expat nationals living and traveling in France for up to date security information. The US Embassy, for example, has contact info here and updates on their Twitter feed.

Want to brush up on your French travel vocabulary? Try About.com or FluentU.

If you have travel plans to France or are thinking of moving there in the coming year, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so – just do your research and travel intelligently. I have lived in France for 30% of my entire life at different times as an intern, student, grad student, English teacher and employee. It is a place that is dear to me, and I would love for you to also have those life-changing experiences.

Travel smartly, safely and avoid protest areas. Take a lesson from my French friends and enjoy life, drink some wine and sit back to see how this evolves. C’est la vie, enfin.

French labour reform bill – main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

Brussels under attack: What you should know

If you somehow haven’t heard yet, ISIS (Daesh) terrorists carried out bombings at Brussels International Airport and a metro station downtown near the EU HQ on March 22. There are thought to be 34+ deaths and 200+ injured, with those tolls probably to rise as forensics teams struggle to identify victims.

Flights have been canceled in and out of Brussels, as well as Eurostar trains. Brussels metro system is also shut down. Contact your travel company for information on your individual plans. Belgian authorities are calling for vigilance.

You can see up-to-date coverage on media including France 24, BBC, NY Times, Economist, Flanders News (local) and CNN. I also recommend following the news on Twitter. For those of you who are American, I suggested registering for the US State Department travel alerts & warnings and their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The UK’s Foreign Ministry has a similar service, as does Australia.  Belgium’s Foreign Ministry and that of France are also great resources.

In addition to social  media outreach, diplomatic letters of support were sent the world over including from the US and France.

My thoughts and prayers with the families and victims of Brussels. I personally have over 20 friends there and luckily they are accounted for. I’ve been there several times and each time the Belgian people are very welcoming. My heart goes out to you.

 

 

FranceBelgiumSolidarity2016

NYT: How France is confronting change

August 27th, 2013 2 comments

The New York Times had a piece the other day talking about the French economy and political system and its confrontation with social realities. “A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline”.

This is certainly not a new theme. Indeed, in my travels and living in France, I often heard the refrain “France changes not by evolution, but by revolution.” It echoes perhaps true today, with a political system that sees its citizens protest in the streets in an attempt to get their voices heard – it’s the French equivalent of citizen lobbying and activism that can come off as much more noticeable than activist efforts through citizen groups like NGO’s in the US.

It’s an insightful read, no matter where you stand in the political spectrum.

Here are the first few excerpts:

The New York Times
Steven Erlanger
August 24, 2013
Memo from France – A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline

“For decades, Europeans have agonized over the power and role of Germany — the so-called German question — given its importance to European stability and prosperity.

Today, however, Europe is talking about “the French question”: can the Socialist government of President François Hollande pull France out of its slow decline and prevent it from slipping permanently into Europe’s second tier?

At stake is whether a social democratic system that for decades prided itself on being the model for providing a stable and high standard of living for its citizens can survive the combination of globalization, an aging population and the acute fiscal shocks of recent years…”

Reflecting on France’s “malaise”

I hope you all had a very good Bastille Day!
As for me, I’m in a Parisian jazz outfit here in Chicago called Keops. We played the Bastille Day celebration at the Daley Plaza. It was a lot of fun.

As France celebrated its Bastille Day, it’s perhaps an opportune time to reflect on what the modern French Republic means, and the attitudes of its citizens.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times penned a poignant, if somewhat controversial, column the other day in reflection about France’s national attitudes. Excerpts below, but it’s worth the full read as these quotes could be taken out of context.

While I witnessed this feeling of “malaise” that seemed to permeate the national consciousness, I also had friends there who were positive people and looked for the bright side of the problem. There are problem solvers in the country, like any country. And the French also have a well-known “joie de vivre”. So I’m afraid Cohen’s column paints a picture that may be too dark. Nonetheless, when comparing France to the US, there is more optimism in general in the US. But in Cohen’s view, a French person would just paint this as blind ignorance.

Do you agree with his analysis?

“…Tell a Frenchman what a glorious day it is and he will respond that it won’t last. Tell him how good the heat feels and he will say it portends a storm. I recently asked in a French hotel how long it would take for a coffee to reach my room. The brusque retort: “The time it takes to make it.”

This surliness is more a fierce form of realism than a sign of malaise. It is a bitter wisdom. It is a nod to Hobbes’s view that the life of man is, on the whole, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Nothing surprises, nothing shocks (especially in the realm of marriage and sex), and nothing, really, disappoints. Far from morose, the French attitude has a bracing frankness. No nation has a more emphatic shrug. No nation is the object of so much romanticism yet so unromantic itself. No nation internalizes as completely the notion that in the end we are all dead.

Now, it is true that France lives with high unemployment in a depressed euro zone; that it is more vassal than partner to Germany these days; that it is chronically divided between a world-class private sector and a vast state sector of grumpy functionaries; that its universalist illusions have faded as its power diminishes; and that its welfare state is unaffordable.

Still, moroseness is a foible in a country with superb medicine, good education, immense beauty, the only wine worth drinking, an army that does the business in Mali, strong families and the earthy wisdom of “la France profonde.”

Malaise and ennui are to France what can-do is to America: A badge of honor…”

How attractive is France’s investment environment?

December 17th, 2012 1 comment

The French-American Chamber of Commerce (FACC) posted the following summary of a report recently carried out by consulting and accounting firm KPMG.

The full report is available here, entitled “Facts & Figures on France’s Investment Attractiveness”.

Probably a good idea to check out other resources as well.

There is an interesting report by The Economist in their “The World in 2013” edition that highlights the likely challenges facing President Hollande’s administration in the next year including the difficulty in encouraging business growth and more investment.

While France remains a country that retains an attractive profile, there is a real risk that increasing taxes and a morose business climate could take hold and hamper growth in 2013. So although France has a lot to offer, it must make progress to improve the business climate and decrease unemployment. It’s not an easy time for Europe, and France will not be an exception. But as the adage goes, “no pain, no gain”.

From: Invest in France Agency

In the competition with other European countries to attract inward investment projects, France boasts a number of key strengths underpinning its investment attractiveness.

These advantages include:
– A large, dynamic market in Europe.
– A skilled, productive workforce.
– Recognized support to foster innovation.
– A plentiful supply of commercial real estate.
– Dense, high-quality transport infrastructure.
– High-quality energy and telecommunications at competitive rates.
– Renowned quality of life.

According to KPMG’s “Competitive Alternatives” biennial guide to business costs in over 100 cities in nine different countries, France stands out for having particularly attractive business setup costs, comprising labor costs, facility costs, transport, utility costs (electricity, natural gas, telecommunications) and corporate tax. In the 2012 edition, France was ranked fourth among the countries compared, up two places from sixth in the previous rankings (2010).

French news: Eurozone crisis, Socialists and Islam

I wrote up a piece for Bonjour Paris covering this diverse topics. You can read the article here.

The Euro-trip is still “a rite of passage”

I loved this BBC News look into interrailing around Europe (from a British perspective). I know that as a student in Angers, France from 2004 to 2005, and since then, I’ve been able to visit many countries in Europe. But the Angers year was more akin to backpacking with friends and staying in hostels. There is excitement, new discoveries, self-reflection, learning about new cultures and languages, accompanied by the occasional logistic problem, cultural barrier, perhaps pickpockets…but it’s all part of the adventure.

If you’re lucky enough to do it, go for it.

This particular article talks about the differences (modern technology, nicer hostels, the Euro…) that have changed backpacking today…but much remains the same. My favorite passage is below. What are your experiences in traveling Europe this way?

“…The essence of an interrailer is constant, Matthias Schwender, who runs an independent hostel in Prague, said to me.

“Someone who is independent-minded, that can connect to other people, that is culturally aware, wants to learn about new cultures and cities, they want to know where the locals go. They know the value of taking some time off in your life for travelling.”

Another interrailer, Titi, argued that you learn about Europe’s tumultuous history by being there, understanding what happened, rather than reading about it in books.

Comparing the Europe and US debt crises

The Economist has an insightful commentary on both debt crises. Excerpt below.

Both the US and the European Union have public finances that are out of control and political systems that are too dysfunctional to fix the problem,” Mr Rachman writes. I have some quibbles about the way he frames the economic issues as a generalised problem of “an unsustainable and dangerous boom in credit”, viz homeowner credit in America and the overdrawn borrowing of Greece and Italy in Europe. This seems to smooth over a lot of differences a bit too easily; the American housing bubble was fueled by CDOs, but the economic problems in Europe aren’t about an asset bubble caused by Greek or Italian government borrowing, and to the extent that the problems are due not to asset bubbles but to financial interconnectedness, the interconnectedness caused by private-sector issuance of CDOs and CDSs isn’t really the same as the interconnectedness caused by the adoption of the euro across 17 countries.

Christine Lagarde elected head of IMF: American reaction

BBC/AFP: Christine Lagarde will start her five-year term at the IMF on 5 July

As former French Finance Minister has been named IMF head, effective July 5th, and François Baroin has been named her replacement, Le Figaro has an interesting article on Christine Lagarde from an American perspective, as well as a longer article into her path that lead her to Washington.

Meanwhile, she appeared in 2009 on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Check it out here.

French economic growth highest since 2006

Good news for the French economy, at least relatively speaking. It grew by 1% during the first quarter of 2011, compared to the last quarter of 2010, “its fastest rate since the second quarter of 2006.” This in part due to a stronger manufacturing sector.

More from BBC:
“.,.All of the eurozone countries are due to report GDP figures on Friday. France’s economy minister Christine Lagarde said she was now “very confident that the (government) forecast of 2% growth for 2011 can be met”.She added that the manufacturing sector had been a particularly strong driver of growth in France.”

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