The French Playbook 2: Pension Strikes, Presidential Bullying, and a Peeved Mélenchon

Our second edition of the short, biweekly hitchhiker’s guide to what’s driving the day in France.

GOOD SUNDAY EVENING. One of us is back for our second installment of our French Playbook, while the other is busy re-booking train tickets and flights, and shaking his fists at the French universal right to strike. Funnily enough, this coming Tuesday has been designated “National Shake-Your-Fists At Pension Reform Day” by protesters, but more on that later. In this update, we’ll check back in with Jean-Luc Mélenchon and see how he’s faring almost two years after French elections (hint: not well), watch a low-budget “Thrilla from Manila” between Trump and Macron at the recent NATO summit, and, obviously, give you the latest on the pension strikes. 

MÉLENCHON MADNESS – In October 2018, prosecutors launched searches of Melenchon’s party headquarters in light of allegations of EU fund misuse and election funding irregularities, something the leader of the France Unbowed Party didn’t take too kindly to. After having been filmed yelling “I am the Republic!” and shoving several police officers, he was sentenced this past week to a three-month suspended prison term and an €8,000 fine for intimidating officials investigating his funding. Melenchon, on the other hand, claims the case is something of a witch-hunt, with deepset political motivations to blame, considering his continuous critique of Macron’s policy agenda. We’ll append the Insoumise leader’s doorstep proclamation below, and let you decide. 

EURONEWS – Youtube

LET’S GET SERIOUS, SERIOUS – NATO’s 70th birthday was this past week as well, an otherwise joyous occasion celebrating decades of transatlantic allyship spoiled, as most family gatherings are, by two curmudgeonly uncles. After much behind-the-back parlance, notably including Emmanuel Macron calling NATO “braindead”, the American and French President looked to settle their differences through a joint press conference. Uncharacteristically, Trump conceded that the countries had “done a lot of good things together”, while strongman Macron held steadfast to his prior comments, maintaining that the US’s allegiance to NATO has and will continue to fade under the current administration. The conversation soon shifted towards the Middle East, Trump offering Macron “some nice IS fighters”, and the French President, unamused, retorted “let’s be serious.” On an unrelated note, a group of what seemed to be schoolyard bullies, bearing uncanny resemblances to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Macron were seen in a lavish dining room, making fun of a character by the name of Donald. Footage below.

Associated Press – Youtube

PENSION PROBLEMS: CONTINUED – In last week’s Playbook, we prognosticated a “bureaucratic tug of war” to be the outcome of the pension strikes, currently on their 11th day, with a planned “Day of Anger” to take place this coming Tuesday, the 17th of December. As you can see, we like to put things lightly. Public transport has been almost completely shut down in Paris, most domestic and some international flights out of CDG have been cancelled, oil refineries have been blockaded, as over 180,000 protesters turned out on the 5th of December to voice their dissatisfaction with Macron’s proposed pension reforms. Despite overwhelming public uproar, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held that there would be no “magic announcements” to quell protests, leaving the country in limbo. Macron will try to avoid a déja vu with 1995 pension reforms, which also crippled public transport for upwards of three weeks and ultimately forced a government climbdown, but union disenchantment with forecasts of longer work-times and reduced pension benefits beginning later under these reforms make the task taller, day by day. A non-reform situation may be just as bad for the government, however; an independent pension committee study found that failure to reform would mean a deficit of up to €17bn by 2025, a lump sum representing 0.7% of French GDP. This balancing act may prove to be Macron’s most testing since the Gilets Jaunes protests of November 2018, and his response will be crucial in both a tone-setting and policy-direction regard for the future. In the meantime, safe travels home, and happy holidays from the Quarterly team! We hope, from the bottom of our hearts, that your train doesn’t get cancelled. And we mean that.

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