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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.

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.

French Constitutional Council approves retirement reform

November 9th, 2010 No comments

After several weeks of protest and the passing of the retirement reform by French Parliament, the Constitutional Council (a bi-partisan panel that examines the constitutionality of proposed laws) has approved of the retirement reform in France. As the Figaro writes, they approved of all the major tenets of the reform (retirement age from 60 to 62, pension frm 65 to 67, etc.). The Sages (“wisemen”) who make up the council rejected Socialist complaints, asserting that the reform did not infringe rights of equality. There were 13 amendments not approved, pushed back to further debate related to reforms on resident work doctors, but all the major parts of the retirement reform were adopted.

You can read more about this decision at the Nouvel Obs, and a great guide and analysis of the main points of the reform can be found here.

Next step: President Sarkozy will sign this into law. Nouvel Obs says that Sarkozy has 15 days to sign this into law, in accordance with the French Constitution. His advisor Raymond Soubie estimated before that it would be around Nov. 15.

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…”

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.

French reform likely to pass despite threat of ongoing strikes

September 24th, 2010 No comments

In the wake of the second round of strikes on Sep. 23 after Sep. 7, unions are calling for continued protest against French government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, and 65 to 67 for full pension access, among other details in a large, long-overdue reform of the retirement and pension system.

Labor Minister Eric Woerth said that the strike movement was not as big on Sep. 23 and was in effect waning. Of course there was much divergence on analysis of participation, between 1 and 3 million protesting (from police estimates to union estimates). This is often the case.

As the reform text will most likely be passed in the Senate Oct. 5, after having already been approved by the Assemblée Nationale, most French people realize that these protests will not change the government’s core policy proposals. In a Figaro poll, nearly 85% of people out of more than 31,000 said that the “retirement reform would come to fruition despite the strikes and protests”.

But the left is not backing down and Socialist Party head and Lille mayor Martine Aubry has vowed that if the Socialists win the presidency in 2012, they will bring retirement back to 60. For now, the unions are speaking about October strikes possibly affecting weekend traffic. They do not want to give up just yet.

We’ll see how this plays out. In the event of continued strikes, stay tuned to American Expat in France.

France to cut 10 billion in tax breaks

With France facing a budget deficit and aiming to make cuts in spending while increasing revenue for the government (and implementing reforms such as the controversial retirement age raise…), it’s no surprise that the government has made this move. For economic background, here’s a brilliant guide from the Economist on Europe’s debt crisis.

For now it seems like France is taking the right actions for now, as its debt ratings from Moody’s remain in good condition. But there have been concerns and warnings that France could face long-term debt problems and thus a credit down-rating (thus undermining their ability to finance the state debt through treasury bonds). Thus it’s important that France continues to reform its system (such as raising the retirement age from 60, the lowest in Europe).

This is from Agence France Presse, taken from the Expatica website.

France to abolish 10 billion euros in tax breaks

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday plans to abolish tax breaks worth 10 billion euros per year, as part of France’s plans to reduce its large public deficit.A statement issued after Sarkozy met his senior economic ministers said general taxation would not increase but that 10 billion euros (12.8 billion dollars) would be raised by abolishing various special tax regimes.

“Any resulting excess in revenues will be entirely assigned to reducing the deficit,” it said, promising to continue with policies of only replacing one retiring civil servant in two and of freezing local government funding. Sarkozy has vowed to maintain state spending at current levels, apart from interest payments and pensions, for the next three years as France battles to bring its ballooning deficit under control.

© 2010 AFP

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