The French Playbook: Pension Problems, ‘Block Friday’, and Sahel.

A short, biweekly hitchhiker’s guide to what’s driving the day in France.

GOOD SUNDAY MORNING and welcome to our very first edition of The French Playbook, our must-read briefing on what’s kicking up the dust in France. Every two weeks, we’ll give internationals at Sciences Po the chance to get an overview of French politics and policy, and impress their Francophone peers. On the docket today, why half of our teachers won’t make it to class next week, what kitchen appliances are doing on French highways, and the latest on French military aid in Mali. 

PENSION PROBLEMS. President and full-time strong man Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017 on a vow to overhaul the pension system and has promised to introduce a point-based system under which all workers have the same rights. Yet while he and his buddies have been drafting up a first draft of the reform, unions at national rail and metro-operators – where most workers can retire in their fifties – have planned an open-ended transport strike on Dec. 5th. A compromise should do the trick, but both parties seem determined to have it their way (welcome to France) and we’ll most likely see a classic tug of war in the coming week. So, good (bad?) news for those whose teachers scheduled make-up classes this coming week.

BLACK FRIDAY YARD SALE. After a group of ‘Amis de la Terre’ activists spread hay, old refrigerators, and microwaves on the driveway leading to the warehouse in Bretigny-sur-Orge to protest against excessive consumption in relation to Black Friday on Thursday, a move to ban the Day of Reckoning for all retail store employees is gaining serious support from lawmakers in the National Assembly. A French legislative committee passed an amendment Monday that proposes prohibiting Black Friday, as it, according to them, causes “resource waste” and “overconsumption.” It’ll obviously be a while until that argument starts gaining traction with our trans-Atlantic neighbors. The amendment to turn Black Friday into Blocked Friday was put forward by France’s former environment minister, Delphine Batho, and will be debated next month. France’s e-commerce union has condemned it, naturally.

SAHEL. The death of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter accident in Mali on November 25 underscored the challenges France’s armed forces face in the Sahel, amid rising insurgent attacks and doubt regarding the usefulness of its military allies in the region. France began its military operations there in 2013, after Mali asked it to help retake territory occupied by Islamist extremists who had hijacked a Touareg rebellion in the country’s northern desert regions the previous year. While the French military succeeded in this initial task, the jihadist insurgency has since spread aggresively throughout Mali and across the border to Niger and Burkina Faso. Despite having stationed 4,500 French troops throughout the Sahel, intensifying attacks have seen more than 170 Malian and Burkinabé troops killed since September.

In a statement on Tuesday, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said that now is “not the time for questioning the merit” of France’s military engagement in the Sahel. Still, some analysts argue that such questioning is warranted. “Since the beginning of the French military involvement in the region, everything got worse,” Jeremy Keenan, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, told Agence France-Presse. “There is no progress.”

On Friday, none other than France’s most senior military officer added fuel to this argument. General François Lecointre, the armed forces’ chief of staff, declared on France Inter radio that “we will never achieve a definitive victory” in the Sahel – although he insisted that France’s military operations there are “useful, good and necessary”.

That’s it for now! We’ll be back in two weeks to give you a fresh briefing on what’s on hot in french politics and policy.

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