Published at: The Canadian Charger, November 4th, 2010 [http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=662]
On Oct 26, the French parliament finally ushered in the Sarkozy government’s pension reforms, which include the highly contentious extension of the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and the raising of the minimum pensionable age from 65 to 67.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to sign the reforms into law in the coming weeks, but he might also be dooming himself and his party to defeat in the 2012 election.
Leading up to the pension reform vote, his government had not budged in the face of months of protests. More than 1 million French citizens have flooded the streets of France since September. In one week, about 3,000 of France’s 12,500 gas stations run out of fuel because of protests at French oil refineries.
“The situation is critical,” said a spokeswoman at Exxon Mobil. “Anyone looking for diesel in the Paris and Nantes regions will have problems.” Indeed, fuel shortages and a lack of garbage collection threaten to cripple the country.
France’s civil aviation authority Le Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC) has urged airlines to reduce flights to Paris’s Orly airport by 50 percent and to all other airports by 30 percent. France’s main airport, the Charles de Gaulle, is expected to cancel a third of its flights.
The government maintains that the entire pension system is in jeopardy and reforms are necessary for reducing France’s high pension deficit, but as progressive parties use the protests to attack Sarkozy his approval is suffering. At 29%, it’s the lowest for any French president in recent memory.
Sarkozy has inflamed popular anger by ordering police to intervene in the protests. According to Reuters: “Riot police used tear gas and rubber pellet guns in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to break up a crowd of youths who set fire to cars near an anti-reform protest by secondary school students. They intervened for similar reasons in the city of Lyon.”
Analysts seem to be split on how the reforms will influence the 2012 election. Despite some polls showing 71% support for the protests, others indicate that over half of France’s citizens believe that the raise in retirement age is acceptable.
Another mass protest is set for November, but already a large number of striking train and garbage workers have returned to their jobs.
Protests over pension reform are nothing new to France. Street riots have brought down previous governments, but how this conflict will affect the 2012 elections is unclear.
Everything depends on whether the French vent their anger at the government for attacking the national retirement plan or at unions for causing inconvenience and instability.