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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

French fighter jets enter Libyan air space

After the UN passed a resolution to protect the Libyan civilian population from government attacks (Libya background), with support for military intervention, French military jets are currently flying over Libya, near Benghazi. According to Figaro, there are five fighter jets preventing Libyan government forces from using airplanes to bomb civilians. Footage below from French news BFM TV. We will see how this develops.

UPDATE: 20 French aircraft are now participating, along with US and UK forces.

Mideast turmoil, record gas (petrol) prices in France

Prices at the pump are at record levels in France, largely due to the rise in oil prices which in turn can be explained by the instability in the Middle East, especially in Libya, (when is it ever stable? I guess I should say exceptional instability). Of course it’s necessary to take into account the VAT (value-added-tax) at 19.6% (tax that goes to the French state). But there is also the TIPP (taxe intérieure sur les produits pétroliers), a tax on petrol-based products explained in detail here.

Right now the average price for unleaded 95 grade is 1.5067 euros per liter (according to report by BFM TV). You can watch the video here in French. This is the first time it’s surpassed 1.50, or about $7.92 per US gallon at today’s exchange rate. Some analysts even predict prices may continue to rise and surpass the 2 euro mark.

News sites like RTL are showing anger against these price hikes, blaming it on the State and the oil companies. You can follow energy prices here at Bloomberg.

France to eliminate tax cap, reform wealth tax

France is unfortunately known for its high taxes. One of the recent fiscal measures, le bouclier fiscal or the tax cap (a.k.a. tax shield) limited all direct income taxes to 50% no matter the income bracket. I wrote about this recently on Bonjour Paris. Those who defended it said it lightened the load of taxes, but those opposed to it reckoned it protected the wealthy while not contributing to reducing the deficit and debt.

Recent debate lead up to today’s decision, announced today by Prime Minister François Fillon, to end the policy. (However, some sort of tax cap will remain in place, at an unspecified percentage, for the less well-off, which make up 52% of the beneficiaries). You can see the French article from Le Point at the link above, and the video from BFM TV below.

Below the video, excerpts from this Wall Street Journal article. Next on the agenda: reforming or abolishing the wealth tax (see more in WSJ and Bonjour Paris articles as well as a detailed report by Le Figaro), which could help as many as 300,000 households pay less tax.

What are your thoughts on these developments?

EUROPE BUSINESS NEWSMARCH 3, 2011, 7:38 A.M. ET
French Prime Minister Says Tax Shield to be Abolished

By WILLIAM HOROBIN

PARIS—French Prime Minister François Fillon Thursday confirmed the government intends to abolish a tax shield that has become a controversial hallmark of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency.

Mr. Sarkozy decreased the threshold of the tax shield shortly after coming to power in 2007 so that no taxpayer pays more than half their income in taxes. But his ratings have hit record lows and the tax shield has become a thorn in his side as many voters see it as a measure benefiting the wealthy few.

“We have to face up to reality: the tax shield has been misunderstood, and the crisis has probably made our citizens more sensitive to some of its effects,” Mr. Fillon told a conference, organized to discuss the reform of property and capital taxes that Mr. Sarkozy has promised for the first half of 2011.

The tax shield was designed in part to limit the impact of France’s wealth tax, which Mr. Sarkozy also intends to reform before the presidential elections in May 2012.

The government says it will either do away with the wealth tax completely or significantly modify it. Mr. Fillon said Thursday said the reform will free 300,000 households from the wealth tax.

Yet the government is insisting the reform must have a neutral impact on public finances at a time when France is fighting to rein in deficits. If the wealth tax and the tax shield are abolished, the government will need around €3.2 billion ($4.44 billion) to make up the shortfall.

“We won’t finance this reform with debt. Balancing the budget will be strictly respected,” Mr. Fillon said.

He also ruled out a variety of options that have been suggested in recent months. The government will not tax gains on the sale of main residences, will not reverse its reduction of inheritance tax, and will not introduce an additional tax bracket, Mr. Fillon said.

Mr. Fillon also said the reform of capital and property tax is one of the reforms necessary for greater tax convergence in the euro zone.

European leaders are negotiating a competitiveness pact for members of the euro zone. Some countries have balked at Franco-German proposals that they fear would compromise their sovereignty in sensitive areas like pensions and salaries.

Mr. Fillon said France and Germany should aim to harmonize corporate taxes, starting with the base of these taxes before looking at the rates.

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