France in chaos: Macron fighting for survival as 'EU demands' spark 'explosive' backlash

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French trade unions began a nationwide strike on Tuesday, asking for higher salaries amid decades-high inflation and posing President Emmanuel Macron one of his stiffest challenges since his reelection in May. Trade union leaders are hoping workers will be energised by the government’s decision to force some of them to go back to work at petrol depots to try and get the fuel flowing again, a move some say put in jeopardy the right to strike.

French government spokesperson Olivier Veran said more requisitions of staff could occur during the day, as drivers keep queuing in front of petrol stations.

“There will be as many requisitions as deemed necessary … Blocking refineries, when we have reached an agreement on wages, this is not a normal situation,” Mr Veran said.

The left-wing CGT union has called for continued walkouts into a fourth week at TotalEnergies, despite the oil company reaching a deal including a 7 percent increase and a bonus on Friday with other, more moderate, unions. The CGT is demanding a 10 percent pay increase, citing inflation and the firm’s huge profits.

Eurostar said it was cancelling some trains between London and Paris because of the strike.

French public railway operator SNCF said that traffic on local connections was down 50 percent but that there were no major disruptions on national lines.

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The government, which lacks a majority in Parliament, is also facing pressure from the EU over pension system reforms necessary to receive EU funds from the Covid recovery plan.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Generation Frexit leader Charles-Henri Gallois said President Macron is in for an “explosive” crisis. 

He said: “They’re talking about general strikes but I don’t think that will happen. The private sector tends not to go on strike. So it will be mainly a public sector strike.

“But that’s quite important and with the capacity to block [the city] as transport, schools, energy sectors will be there. So the impact will be important.”

Asked how damaging they will be for Mr Macron, he said: “Macron is in a difficult position. In Parliament he has no majority. He did not manage to pass the budget and he will have to trigger article 49-3 to force his way.

“And then there are the strikes and he also hasn’t passed yet the pension system reform which the EU demands as a counterpart to the recovery plan.

“The pension system reforms will be explosive in this context.

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“If there is a censure vote in the Parliament, the government falls and he has already said that he would call a snap parliamentary election.

“The issue he has is that if that happens tomorrow, he will lose bigger than last time.

“So he will try to wait and say that the opposition blocks everything and is irresponsible.”

He continued: “The worse bit for him is the economic situation. The strikes will depend on whether he agrees to give pay rises, which can happen as Macron will be worried.”

The mass strikes were sparked by President Macron’s decision to force gas station workers to operate for emergency services during their strike.

The decision was branded a “bulls*** move” by CGT union leader Philippe Martinez.

Demonstrations are scheduled all over the country, with one in Paris starting at 1200 GMT.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to protest against soaring prices.

The leader of hard-left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), Jean-Luc Melenchon, marched alongside this year’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Annie Ernaux. Mr Melenchon joined calls for a general strike for Tuesday.

On Monday, Emmanuel Macron was at the Porte de Versailles Motor Show and perhaps he had his eye on a very specific part of the vehicles on display: their fuel tanks. While nearly a third of the country’s petrol stations are still struggling, despite the requisition of strikers, the French president called for a solution “as soon as possible” to “resolve” the crisis.

At around 5pm, he therefore called a meeting at the Elysée with the Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and the members of the government concerned. This was an opportunity to “take stock of the situation”, in particular with the ministers Bruno Le Maire (Economy), Agnès Pannier-Runacher (Energy Transition), Christophe Béchu (Ecological Transition), Clément Beaune (Transport) and the government spokesman Olivier Véran, according to the Elysée.

“I am by the side of all our compatriots who are struggling and who have had enough of this situation”, “we will continue to do our best”, Macron said. “I want this to be resolved as soon as possible,” he added, answering “I know” to a journalist who asked him if the crisis was worsening. He did not give more details on what the executive intended to do.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega



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