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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

Commerce on dimanche: Should France expand Sunday store hours?

February 13th, 2015 No comments

Bonjour! I hope your new year is off to a great start.

As many veteran and new expats alike know, stores and shops in France tend to be closed or have limited hours on Sundays – especially outside of big cities. How many times have you needed groceries after 7pm on Sunday only to have to wait until Monday? This is not the experience in all stores – but it is often the case outside of Paris.

According to The Washington Post, France is currently debating whether or not to increase the number of Sundays shops can be open per year.

It is perhaps a surprising move from the French Socialist Party, but not as surprising knowing that the French presidential cabinet has appointed in recent months more conservative, business-friendly ministers like Macron who are cozying up to capitalism.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share and post comments!

Bon weekend à tous !

France may finally allow more shops to open on Sunday
By Rick Noack
February 12, 2015

Baker Stéphane Cazenave is said to produce France’s best baguettes. However, according to French law, he can only produce those baguettes six days a week.

Cazenave had ignored that rule because demand for his baguettes was so high that he was able to employ 22 people seven days a week. Instead of being applauded, Cazenave now faces a lawsuit. “People see me like a thug just because I asked to work,” he told France Television. “Working shouldn’t be a crime in France.”

It might seem strange to Americans, but French businesses are often closed on Sundays in most parts of the country and are only allowed to open five times a year that day. Despite the French tradition of separating religion and state, labor unions and Catholic lobbies have so far succeeded in defending Sunday as a sacred ‘day of rest’ for the entire country.

This, however, could change. To many French, the current debate about allowing more businesses to open on Sundays is of a fundamental nature: Should the country become more commercial and capitalistic?

French President François Hollande believes so. He shocked many when he recently announced he would pursue a law known under the name of France’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron. The initiative aims to liberalize the country’s bureaucratic economy. For Hollande, a lot is at stake: Having so far been unable to decrease unemployment and boost growth, his popularity has sunk dramatically.

The law — pursued by a leftist Socialist Party government — is supposed to end a variety of monopolies and allow more competition, but its most contentious proposal is to allow stores and businesses to open more often. According to the draft, they could soon operate on 12 instead of five Sundays a year. Cities could decide on their own whether they would implement the rule, and there are exceptions in areas, such as in Paris.

One of the 2012 election promises of Hollande had been to keep Sunday a day of rest. Hence, breaking with this promise has been interpreted by some in France as a sign of governmental despair with an uncertain economic impact.

Critics are outraged. “It is a moment of truth speaking to the one question that truly matters: What kind of society do we want to live in?” former French employment minister Martine Aubry asked in an op-ed in Le Monde in December.

“Does the political left have nothing else to offer as a societal model than a Sunday stroll to the mall and the accumulation of consumer goods? Sunday should be a time set aside for oneself and for others,” Aubry argued.

Without actually naming it, Aubry implied what she did not want France to become: a country with a 7-days a week consumption culture as it is common in the United States. France is not the only country in which shopping is limited on Sundays: Germany, for instance, has upheld similar regulations.

When France’s economy surprisingly started to grow slightly at the end of 2014, it was mainly due to domestic consumption. Allowing consumers to spend money seven days a week instead of only six could boost the country’s outlook, some said.

Others, however, are more skeptical. “The bill is a ‘catch-all’ text that does not address France’s serious structural issues,” Emmanuel Martin, Director of the Paris-based Institute for Economic Studies-Europe, told The Washington Post. “France’s issues are structural: a bloated government administration both at the central and local level which generates inefficient regulations, inefficient spending and of course then, higher growth-killing taxation.”

Even though Martin is not convinced of the law, he acknowledged it does sometimes feel like something from another era. “For sure, it feels weird to see shops closed in a major shopping street of Paris — one the most beautiful cities of the world,” Martin said.

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…”

French Socialists Primaries: François Hollande comes out on top in first round

October 10th, 2011 1 comment

Bonjour!

A brief French news update….

The French Socialist Party held the country’s first general political primary in order to choose their party’s candidate for the Spring 2012 Presidential election. François Hollande came out on top, with Martine Aubry coming in at a close second. The second and final round will take place next Sunday Oct. 16. You can read more about the election here and here (in French). For coverage from a left-leaning paper, check out Libération

They had a very heavy turn-out and more politically liberal voters generally seem quite happy with the primary system. Now the question is who losing candidates will support in the run-off next week, and more importantly, who presents the best case and chance to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in the elections. Sarkozy is very unpopular, and there is a wave of frustration with his administration and its policies and a sense that people are tired of having him in power. This could well be an omen for any chances he may have at a second term. Only time will tell.

Francois Hollande is thought to appeal to a wide cross-section of the electorate (BBC News)

Bonjour Paris article: French politics, Libya, Burqa ban..

I write for Bonjour Paris, a valuable resource, with summaries of French news. This week I focus on French politics, NATO intervention in Libya, regime change in Côte d’Ivoire and the debate on Islam in France.

Bonjour Paris: Libya, French elections, tsunami, Chirac

This week’s Bonjour Paris features many interesting articles. I have one that covers a variety of subjects (Chirac trial, French elections, Libyan crisis, Japanese tsunami) you can read here.

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