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France facing significant strikes this week, will impact train travel

French labor unions and student groups are on strike around France right now thru March 10th. This is impacting travel throughout the country. Make sure to check SNCF’s time tracking website for updates to train schedules as well as the Paris transit system RATP.

France24 has great coverage of this here and the US State Department has issued the travel warning below for expats.

Bon courage, les amies, les amis.

SNCF_strike_March2016

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Strikes in France on March 8-10, 2016

On March 8 -10, 2016, members of several unions and student groups plan both strikes and protests all across France. These protests and strike actions are likely to make travel and/or local transport (including movement by private vehicle or taxi) difficult.

Nationwide, the unions that represent 70% of SNCF employees have called on their employees to strike; local media report that this is the first time since June 2013 that the four biggest unions have been unified in their intention to strike, suggesting that the participation rate could be very high and disruption accordingly significant.

In Paris, unions representing local transport authority RATP will also be striking, leading to possible slowdowns on the Metro, buses, and RER.

In separate actions, several groups plan to converge on the Place de la République in Paris at 2 pm from various assembly points across the city to protest the government’s consideration of reforms to the labor laws.

Unions have called on their members to meet around Paris metro station ‘Ecole Militaire’ to march on the MEDEF headquarters in the 7th arrondissement on avenue Bosquet. From there, they intend to head to the Labor Ministry on rue de Grenelle before heading for the Place de la République.

Student and young people’s groups have called on their participants to gather at Place de la Nation in the east of the city before marching to République.

Please note that the actual strike plans filed by the transport workers’ unions designate a start of the action at 8 pm Tuesday night, March 8, and a finish Thursday morning, March 10, at about 8 am.

Please consult various sources of local information for updates, including local TV stations and websites (to include BFMTV, Le Parisien, and France24), as well as:

RATP – Paris local transport system – for information on metros, buses, and RER lines:

http://www.ratp.fr/informer/trafic/trafic.php

Transilien – for Paris region transport:

http://www.transilien.com/info-trafic/temps-reel

SNCF – for national and regional rail travel:
http://www.sncf.com/fr/horaires-info-trafic

Twitter feeds for particular metro and/or RER line(s) are always very helpful, as are the Twitter feeds of the Paris Prefecture de Police (@prefpolice) and Aéroports de Paris (@AeroportsParis), which also provides information on traffic conditions to/from CDG and Orly airports.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that demonstrations and large events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational. Avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Large public gatherings can affect all major incoming arteries to the city in which they occur. Demonstrations in one city have the potential to lead to additional public rallies or demonstrations in other locations around the city and country.

We strongly encourage U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to access local media to stay abreast of developments, avoid demonstrations, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.

For further information:

  • Contact the U.S. Embassy in France, located at 4, Avenue Gabriel, Paris,
    +33 (1) 43 12 22 22, 9:00am – 6:00pmMonday through Friday.
    After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +33 (1) 43 12 22 22.
  • Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

How French media is adapting to Web 2.0 name bans

The BBC has a short video report featuring interviews with French journalists about the recent ban on citing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social network companies on air. This stems from a French law preventing the promotion of brands on news broadcasts.

So instead of saying “Follow France24 on Twitter and Facebook”, they will have to say “Follow France24 on our social network channels” or something of the like. Not a big change perhaps, but the debate is whether or not these companies have penetrated the social fabric of our culture so deeply that their names are cultural references first, brands second.

What do you think?

You can watch the video here.

Strong showing for left, far right in French local elections “cantonales”

The far right (Front National, FN) seems to be gaining ground in France, in the personality of Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the ultra-conservative former presidential candidate who made it to the second round of elections in 2002 against Jacques Chirac).

They recently received over 15% of the vote in the first round of France’s department local elections, les cantonales (compared to 17% for Sarkozy’s UMP Party, 25% for the PS Socialist Party, see graphic below). Although the abstention rate was very high (around 55%), it is an important alert for many French and politicians.

For France, there are worries about crime, immigration (specifically Muslim immigrants) and other issues that motivate people to vote for the hard-line party FN. But this is not a French phenonmenon, as the far right has a growing influence around Europe.

I wrote about these elections in Bonjour Paris and how the decline in Sarkozy’s popularity could undermine the strength of UMP’s election results. In fact, some members of UMP and even Sarkozy’s cabinet have called for voters to choose archrival PS (Socialists) in case the choice was between PS and FN.

Next step: the 2nd and final round of the elections will take place this Sunday March 27.

You can read more about this and the far right movement on France24 (English, excerpts below), Figaro (French, conservative), Libération (French, liberal), BBC News and The Economist. The Figaro most notably has department by department results of the election. They also have a special section on the elections.

Local elections see gains for left and far right

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservatives lost ground in nationwide local elections on Sunday that saw a low voter turnout and significant gains by opposition left-wing parties and the far-right National Front.

AP – French leftists and the resurgent far right enjoyed strong showings in local elections Sunday that left President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing conservatives struggling to maintain prominence.

Sarkozy’s role in launching the international military intervention in Libya on the eve of the voting did not immediately appear to have swayed the outcome of the voting in France’s cantons.

The elections for France’s smallest administrative segment are relatively minor, but they are the last test of parties’ nationwide strength before next year’s presidential elections.

Turnout was about 45 percent, low for France, the Interior Ministry said. The prime minister, anguished by the low participation, urged voters to turn out for the runoffs March 27.

The opposition Socialists enjoyed the most votes overall with about 25 percent of votes, according to preliminary results Sunday night from the Interior Ministry.

Sarkozy’s UMP party and allied parties had about 32 percent of votes, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. But French television and rival parties said the UMP itself had less than 20 percent of the vote.

The far right National Front had about 15 percent of the vote, Gueant said. The party is riding the wave of popularity of its new leader, Marine Le Pen, who has tapped into worries about Muslim immigrants.

Le Pen took the party leadership in January from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, an icon in French politics for decades who worried millions of French voters and neighboring countries when he made it into the runoff in 2002 presidential elections.

Recent opinion surveys have showed Sarkozy’s approval ratings at historic lows. Leftist voters are angry at his cost-cutting measures and say he is too cozy with corporate interests. Many conservatives are disappointed that he has not been bolder about loosening up the labor market and hasn’t eased tensions between police and youth in suburban housing projects.

A win in a cantonal election gives candidates a seat on councils overseeing France’s departments, or provinces.

Bonjour Paris: end of French 35 hour work week?

January 16th, 2011 2 comments

This week’s Bonjour Paris features an article by me. Check out Bonjour Paris, a great resource.

The End of the 35-hour Work Week in France?
By Michael Barrett

French politicians from across the political spectrum are debating whether or not to change the law on the 35-hour work week even though most people work longer than that. Whether or not it happens, there will be heated discourse.

Ask someone outside of France what they think of French workers, and the majority of the responses will most likely involve strikes, protests and perhaps some “bossnappings”. This satirical article is just an example.

But, another aspect is the 35-hour work week that became law in 2000 during the presidency of Jacques Chirac and the government of Socialist Lionel Jospin (Prime Minister at the time). Proposed by Martine Aubry (current Socialist Party head, Lille Mayor and potential 2012 presidential candidate), the idea is based on the belief that by decreasing the number of hours worked, there would be more room for new hires.

Although France has one of the most productive workforces in the world, its competiveness as a place to do business is less than stellar. (There is an interesting comparison between France and the US here). It has had mixed results.

This could be explained by several factors (also depending on political opinion and sources), but certainly the 35-hour work week could be considered as a divisive issue. One of the most remarkable calls for its repeal came from Socialist Manuel Valls, who France 24 (in an excellent article) rightly calls “a maverick”.

This has lead to loud criticism of him in his party for going against the grain and criticizing a staple policy from when Socialists held governing powers. Valls thinks the policy undermines French competitiveness in the world economy.

Now the conservative UMP party (that of President Nicolas Sarkozy) has called for a debate on the 35-hour work week. But Sarkozy so far has refused repealing it in the short-term.

This topic will certainly be contested during the next year until the 2012 elections. Stay tuned for the news.

Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France.

Paris transport system slowed down by snow, Eiffel Tower shut

December 8th, 2010 No comments

So after much of France was hit by significant amounts of snow (15 inches in Lyon, etc.), Paris is finally getting hit by some winter weather (very uncharacteristic for Paris in general, especially at this time of year). However it is not as bad, and total snowfall for the Paris region is predicted to be 5 to 6 inches maximum. But you can never be 100% sure. For the latest weather conditions, check out Méteo France’s map of weather warnings (you’ll see the weather warnings are not limited to Paris).

Right now the Paris RATP public transport system is experiencing significant delays, with the bus network “paralyzed” as crews clear the streets (they are not used to snow here). Metro lines 5, 6, 8, 9 and 13 are experiencing delays. RER A and B are having some technical problems as well. See their site for more information. You can also see for RER trains updated information on this site.

National railway operator SNCF has also warned of 30 minute delays or more for some TGV’s (high-speed trains). France24 reports on traffic delays due to weather and that the Eiffel Tower was shut down today.

For up-to-date air travel info, check with your airline. BBC says that Charles de Gaulle airport had temporarily stopped flights.
You can see some video here.

I know I walked to lunch today from my office, the snow was coming down quite hard and the streets had yet to be cleared. Good luck and try to enjoy the beauty of the snow!

Winter storms hit France, Europe; flights disrupted

December 2nd, 2010 No comments

As you have probably seen on the news, snow and cold weather has hit large parts of Europe, including a good portion of France. Although Paris has been spared most of the snow, it is still quite cold here, in the low 20’s at night (-7 Celsius), more like an average Chicago winter day. But in other parts of France, my friends in Grenoble, Lyon, Annecy, Eastern France all report anywhere between 8 and 16 inches of snow, so it’s quite a significant snowfall. England and Germany have been hit hard, as well as Poland, Italy and several other countries.

You can get updates for France from Le Point where they say that likely 25% of flights at Roissy CDG are cancelled and 10% at Orly for Thursday. But they said snow will last another 24 hours in France before likely turning to rain. Authorities are having a difficult time de-icing and salting highways, so be careful driving in France. Here is a map of temperatures (Celsius) for Thursday in France.

CNN also covers the storm in Europe, and flights at airports like London Gatwick, Frankfurt and Munich have been significantly disrupted with cancellations and major delays (NB their 3rd picture is Lyon’s Place Bellecour). BBC writes that flights have been severely disrupted as well in Brussels, Vienna, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Geneva, Berlin, London Heathrow and Prague. Over 3,000 people in high-speed German trains had to spend the night in the train as they were blocked by weather. They too have pictures of the storm in Europe (once again with 4th picture in Lyon).

You can get travel updates for Paris airports here. Check with your airline as well and the airports for your cities. France24 has a comprehensive guide for travel in snow-covered France and Europe. High-speed rail like TGV in France has been somewhat delayed. Check Infolignes SNCF for alerts.

For French weather, check Météo France. Bundle up, save travels!

35 French sites classified by UNESCO as “World Heritage”

November 24th, 2010 5 comments

France24 lists the 35 sites around France that appear in UNESCO’s World Heritage site list. They include Mont St. Michel, the historic centers of Lyon & Avignon, Pont du Gard, the banks of the Seine in Paris, Fontainebleau, Versailles and Chartres, among other famous sites. The map below is from the original article on France24. All the more reason to visit this beautiful country!

French strikes set for Nov. 23, but don’t expect large turnout

November 22nd, 2010 No comments

The contested pension reform has become French law, but some unions (CFDT, CGT, FSU, Solidaires, Unsacette) and other opponents to the measure are insisting that the strikes must go on. But it likely won’t have any important impact, except for annoying commuters and parents. However, traffic will not be nearly as disrupted as other days. It has been a long road of reform and protest, as France24 writes.

Le Volontaire has a list of strikes organized around France, by départment (and city).

Left-wing newspaper L’Humanité unsurprisingly calls this an “unjust reform” and supports the strikes, with a list of cities participating (similiar to the one above, with some variation). In Paris, the action will start at metro Opéra at noon, pass by la rue du Quatre Septembre, la Bourse des Valeurs, palais Brongniart and finish at place de la Bourse around 2pm.

On the other side of the political spectrum, business newspaper Les Echos (like the French Wall Street Journal) is calling this the “last-ditch stand” (baroud d’honneur) of unions.

According to the SNCF’s site, TGV, Téoz and Intercité trains will not be affected. However, certain regional TER trains could be (look by region). So far the Paris area RATP website is not updated with strike information, but will likely have delays on certain bus lines that go to métro Opéra.

THIS JUST IN: The following bus lines will be interrupted with irregular intervals between about noon and 2pm tomorrow in Paris: 20, 21, 22, 27, 29, 39, 42, 48, 52, 53, 66, 67, 68, 74, 81, 85, 95 and Roissybus. This is especially important for those planning on taking Roissybus from Opera to CDG Airport. If you think this may disrupt your plans, you can opt for RER B at about an equal cost (around 9 euros), or taxis will run you about 35-40 euros. The

For updates on RER suburban line trains, you can see this site. Lyon’s TCL transport system will not be affected. For updates on other cities’ transport systems, you can check this link from a previous strike day. You can check the status of trains in major stations at this site.

Bonjour Paris: Sarkozy’s new cabinet

November 20th, 2010 No comments

In this week’s Bonjour Paris, a great resource, I write a piece analyzing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new cabinet after the reshuffling. It talks about changes, Prime Minister François Fillon, the French economy, Bettencourt scandal, Sarkozy’s 10 big challenges for the remainder of his administration and 2011 Senate elections and 2012 presidential election. Excerpts below.

Just an FYI: there are strikes planned for Nov. 23 against the now lost-cause of retirement reform, but they are not expected to cause much disruption. Nonetheless I will update my blog Nov. 22 with any relevant information.

As promised, President Nicolas Sarkozy finally carried out the long-awaited reshuffling of his cabinet. This is a traditional move by French presidents during their administrations, regarded as an effort to regain popularity and credibility after facing approval-rating problems. Mr. Sarkozy has certainly had those.

The Economist cites a poll by Ifop that puts Sarkozy’s approval rating at 36% and that of Prime Minister François Fillon at 55%. This is one principal reason Fillon was kept in office – defying the modern trend of presidents changing prime ministers once or twice per administration. In fact, as the same article notes: “If he keeps his job until 2012, M. Fillon will become the first prime minister in modern times to have survived a president’s entire term.” This is due in part because “his calm, reassuring style makes him the antidote to the hyperkinetic president.”

So the fact that Fillon stayed on makes this both an uneventful reshuffling and an exceptional one. You can see a group photograph and learn the names of all cabinet members on the Elysée website here. You can also read coverage of it in the New York Times. Some of the most notable changes come at Defense Minister (old: Hervé Morin; new: Alain Juppé) and Foreign Minister (old: Bernard Kouchner; new: Michèle Alliot-Marie). Overall, it is a government that is more right of center, and one of the most unsurprising changes was at Budget Minister, where François Baroin replaced Eric Woerth. Woerth had been entangled in the Bettencourt scandal. But Nicolas Sarkozy supported him fully in a speech to France about his reshuffling.

Sarkozy will face 10 big challenges during the second half of his term, according to weekly Le Point: strengthening his UMP party unity for 2012; regaining approval ratings; keeping the French Senate to the right (Senatorial elections are in September 2011 and could swing left); reforming fiscal policy; financing aid for the elderly; supporting employment; improving France’s image abroad; getting support from students and the youth with convincing plans; and mastering the internet.

For more information, The Economist has quality coverage of this event. France 24 also covers it.

The challenge now is implementing further reforms – on the heels of the unpopular retirement pension reform now law – to improve the French economy while remaining popular enough to have a chance at reelection in 2012. But there are already many candidates from several parties waiting in the wings, most notably IMF head and Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former Prime Minister conservative Dominique de Villepin.

US midterm election coverage from France

November 2nd, 2010 No comments

As US midterm elections take place today, there are several helpful sites with lots of information and insightful commentary, such as CNN, BBC, New York Times and The Economist.

But there is a fair share of sites in France, too. Le Figaro interviews Americans in Paris debating politics, talks about Obama campaigning for candidates, profiles young voters in the US who are disillusioned with politics, and features a midterm election special here.

Le Point talks about “the moment of truth for Obama” and you can also find information at Nouvel Obs, 20 minutes and a fantastic guide from France24. The US Embassy Paris also gives a guide.

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