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Where to find petrol (gas) in France

The Local France has an interactive map of where to find gas (petrol) stations that have supplies. They also have a map of where the gas shortage is being felt the worst.

The Economist has some essential reading from May 27 that covers the recent mayhem including more than 2,300 petrol stations that are either dry or rationing portions.

Travel wisely and be safe. I’ll be Tweeting updates from my handle @AmExpatFrance.

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.

French retirement reform passes; Fillon kept as PM; strikes for Nov. 23

November 14th, 2010 No comments

I write for Bonjour Paris and this week have this article about the French retirement reform passing. Be sure to check out Bonjour Paris.

Excerpts from my article below:

After two months that saw many days of strike action (sometimes marred by violence) by unions, schools and others opposed to the French government’s retirement reform, it has become law. President Nicolas Sarkozy had given ground on certain areas, such as easing pension requirements for working mothers and those who work in arduous, labor-intensive jobs.

But he did not give in to union demands to keep the retirement age at 60 and the age for full pension at 65, instead remaining determined to raise these to 62 and 67, respectively. Business newspapers give an in-depth look into the details of the pension law (in French).

In the end he succeeded, despite strike action, because of many factors including a special parliamentary procedure that did not allow for debate on each amendment and thus facilitated voting on the proposed bill in the Sénat and Assemblée Nationale. Another reason is that strikes in France do not have the power they used to, with a legal minimum service in schools and in transportation making life less difficult for everyday people. The Paris metro operated during the heat of the strike.

He succeeded in this reform where past French presidents attempting it had failed because of giving in to strike pressure. But what has this done for his popularity and chances of being re-elected in 2012?

The BBC reports that it has certainly undermined his approval ratings.

In the midst of this lack of popularity, Sarkozy is planning a TV address on Nov. 18 to announce a cabinet reshuffling, with Prime Minister François Fillon being kept in place (having been reappointed to the position today after resigning from it only yesterday) but other ministers to be changed, a traditional move by the presidency to regain popularity. But the unions are still calling for strike action Nov. 23. Although aware that they will likely accomplish nothing against what is already law, they are already preparing action on other measures to keep momentum going, like work insurance, complementary pensions, youth unemployment problems, etc.

For now, Sarkozy has won the battle. But will he win the war? We’ll have to see. The definitive answer will come in 2012.

Bonjour Paris newsletter: French government news, strike update

November 8th, 2010 2 comments

I write for Bonjour Paris and this week I have a piece about the French government cabinet reshuffle with updates on the strike movement (which seems to be dying down as the retirement reform bill is set to become law). Check out other articles on the site as well, on such subjects like French wine, hotel recommendations, Obama-Sarkozy relationship and more. Excerpts below from my article. I’ll be sure to update you on any strike situation that could affect you.

Indeed, the strikes on Nov. 6 saw significantly less participation, with unions divided about the future of the movement. Figaro asserts that the movement has loss all momentum. Le Point writes that as turnout was lower than previous days, tension is high among unions about the future. They will decide Monday on whether or not to carry out further action. I will let you know what they decide.

In the wake of several weeks that have seen strikes around France in protest against French retirement reform proposed and enacted by President Sarkozy’s government, the “movement” has calmed down significantly since the somewhat violent clashes between youth and police in Lyon and elsewhere a couple weeks ago.

Where do we stand now? The pension reform law has been voted by Parliament (both Assemblée Nationale and Sénat) and is now awaiting final approval by the Conseil Constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council, a bi-partisan board that evaluates the constitutionality of proposed laws) before becoming official law.

The unions called for a strike on Saturday Nov. 6, but following the relatively low turnout for protests compared to past demonstrations, they are thinking about the future of other days of action. Even if the reform becomes law, despite its “injustice” in the eyes of unions, they say they would continue to demonstrate and protest in policies linked to purchasing power, working conditions and other issues for them. The French Left is now considering actions to capitalize on the frustration of the streets, according to Libération, to prepare for the 2012 presidential elections.

Meanwhile the government is preparing for a reshuffle of ministers, with rumors surrounding the Prime Minister François Fillon and whether or not he will be replaced by Jean-Louis Borloo (current Minister of Ecology and Energy, Sustainable Development and Town and Country Planning).

In the conservative Figaro, a poll finds that nearly 87% of respondents want Fillon to stay on. Indeed, his level of popularity has remained higher than Sarkozy for a long time now. Many French see him as intelligent, calm and composed as opposed to the hyper-active and micro-managing President.

One thing is for sure. France is the midst of significant social change that will have an impact in years to come, and for many French, 2012 could not come soon enough. But there is a lot of time between now and then, and Sarkozy could make a come-back. That looks unlikely at the moment.

French Senate approves retirement reform bill

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

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…”

Lyon calming down but police still maintaining order

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

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.

This just in: French strikes continued for Oct. 28, Nov. 6

October 21st, 2010 No comments

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.

France still under strike tension with increasing violence

October 21st, 2010 3 comments

Environ 1 200 personnes ont convergé vers la Guillotière. Certaines en ont profité pour se défouler / Stéphane Guiochon (Le Progrès)

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.

Sarkozy remains firmly opposed to violent demonstrators, saying “they will not have the last word” and almost 2000 have been arrested since Oct. 12.

The New York Times covers this story well.

I’ll keep you updated.

This just in: French strikes planned for Oct. 19, fuel supply to Paris airports cut

October 15th, 2010 1 comment

Wow, French unions are calling for yet another “day of action”, this time for Tuesday Oct. 19. This will combine public transport strikes and high school closings, as well as a continuation of the blockade of oil refineries that is threatening to cut supply in the country.

The French government is being urged by oil representatives to open up the emergency supply of provisions, as they state there are only 10 days worth of stock left. All of 12 French refineries have been either shut down or blockaded by protesting workers, leading to this situation, but riot police have successfully intervened and reopened 4 refineries. However, the fuel supply to the 2 main airports in Paris, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, has been cut. Consequently, CDG could run out of fuel by next week, whereas estimates on stock for Orly are for another 17 days. See article below for more information. You can also look at the Paris airports website for information. Check with your airline companies too.

As BBC notes in this insightful report, President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing record low approval ratings, but he has insisted that his government will not cede in the midst of opposition to pension reform. Meanwhile Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry and others from the left are calling for renegotiations, but the left remains split between those who would be willing to raise the age to 62 amid concessions and those who do not want to negotiate. The President of UMP (Sarkozy’s center-right party) in the Sénat, Gérard Longuet, has called out the Socialists as hyocrites for suggesting retirement age 60 because people would not be able to get full pension.

The UMP’s youth and student arm is trying to reach out to high schoolers in the midst of strikes and protests to inform them about the retirement reform; you will see many students protesting, but dig deeper and often they are not that informed.

Stay tuned. I will update my blog on Oct. 18 with pertinent transport info for the country. Meanwhile, watch out for disgruntled strikes tomorrow (Saturday Oct 16) as protests are planned for around the country as well that day. Hang in there!

Fuel supplies to Paris’ main airports through a major pipeline have been cut off amid strikes over pension reforms.

“The company that operates the pipeline told French media that the capital’s main airport, Charles de Gaulle, could run out of fuel as early as next week. There are fears of fuel shortages as all of France’s 12 oil refineries have been hit by strikes, and many oil depots remain blockaded.

Unions are opposed to government plans to raise the retirement age. Trapil, the firm that operates the pipeline to Paris’ airports, said supplies had been cut off on Friday.

A company spokesman told AFP news agency: “Orly airport has stocks for 17 days, and Roissy [Charles de Gaulle] for at least the weekend.”

In recent days government officials have tried to play down fears of petrol shortages, insisting that France has enough to see out the industrial action.However, panic buying has broken out in some areas, putting supplies under greater strain.

Earlier in Friday, riot police reopened oil deports that had been blockaded in Fos-sur-Mer in the south; Cournon in central France; and Lespinasse and Bassens in the south-west, AFP reported. French Junior Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told reporters: “We cannot afford petrol shortages. One must bear in mind those of us who need transport.”

However, new blockades were set up at least five other fuel depots.

On Thursday, France’s petrol distributors urged the government to release emergency fuel stocks, warning that only 10 days’ fuel was left. Demand at petrol pumps has surged by 50% in the past two days.

In the port of Marseille, more than 70 ships carrying crude for refining are stranded as dockers continue their rolling strike.The protests erupted after centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and from 65 to 67 for a full state pension.

More than a million people took to the streets in the latest national protest on Tuesday. France’s main unions have since stepped up their action, calling for the fifth in a series of strikes and street protests on 19 October. Students, who joined Tuesday’s demonstrations in large numbers, held further protests on Friday. More than 300 secondary schools across France – about one in 15 – remain affected by strikes and blockades.

French strikes persist, government determined, gasoline shortages?

October 15th, 2010 1 comment

After Oct. 12’s strikes throughout the country, unions are congratulating themselves on a strong turnout of 1.2 million (police estimates) to 3.5 million (union estimates) people in the streets. This week public transport has been interrupted in several cities and on the national rail network run by SNCF (not to mention Air France flights and the main Paris airports), so travel has not been easy.

As it stands currently, SNCF still has delays and cancelations. You can see info on this in French on their website Infolignes under the menu “Prévisions”. This includes TGV high-speed trains and also TER regional express trains. But Eurostar trains connecting Paris to London have been mostly spared by the strike. You can see the status of departures and arrivals in main stations in France at this website.

Many high schools have closed around the country and students could be seen protesting and demonstrating, including ones near the high school on my street. Some say they are worried about reform; my personal opinion is that they want to miss class, as is usually the case. If they truly understood the implications of the reform, they would be supporting it as it’s in their interest to have a pension when they’re retired. Indeed, as The Economist stated, “A silent majority seems to know that demography and economics make pension reform inevitable.”

How does the situation look now? Transport has been improving, as the Paris RATP system will tell you (though RER B is still experiencing delays and some bus and metro lines are still crowded). Lyon’s TCL system is affected too, as are other cities. But workers from oil giant Total and others have been blocking oil refineries, leading to concerns about gasoline shortages and the French government to seek emergency supplies. But in a poll by conservative daily Le Figaro, about 65% of respondents said they were not worried by having gas shortages.

The government led by President Nicolas Sarkozy (trying to regain power and influence at home and abroad, according to The Economist) is pledging not to back down on the major parts of the reform, such as raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018 and the age for a full pension from 65 to 67. But these are the main hot points of the unions on strike. As BBC states, it’s a battle of wills. As life expectancy increases and public debt rises, reform of the French system is inevitable.

Be attentive to travel websites to make sure public transport is not disrupted and be patient. The Senate is highly expected to approve of the retirement reform by the end of the month. The best thing unions can hope for is the Socialists to win the 2012 presidency, but even then the Socialists would have a tough time coming back on this sorely needed reform. Don’t believe campaign promises or politicians. Believe economics.

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