Tuesday 19 October 2010


After almost a week of demonstrations Nicolas Sarkozy has been forced to appeal for calm after cars were burned and shop windows smashed today.

Additionally the oil refinery strike is biting now all over the country. Around 4,000 petrol stations are running out, or are out of petrol, with long queues building up.

It is expected soon that fuel supplies for freight vehicles will run out and at that point distribution of food and supplies to factories and shops will start to dry up.

Sarkozy, who was at an international summit in Deauville, has set up an emergency committee to deal with the crisis, He said that he cannot allow shortages; that the majority of people want to work and must not be prevented from doing so by a lack of petrol.

He has said that he will not pull back from his pension reforms, which include raising the basic age of retirement from 60 to 62.

At the end of this week his Bill will face its vote in the Senate and this will mean it is a step closer becoming law. This Senate vote has already been postponed from last week.

However, Nicolas should be aware that no matter what he does, the French do not like it when someone attacks their way of life. They take a different attitude to life in most of France. It is about living; not about working. Work is necessary to allow one to live, but it is not life. Life is food and art and wine and politics and philosophy and fun and l'amour.... and some work.

The strikers will not let the mere fact that the Senate has approved the Bill get in the way of their intention to reverse it. They consider the reform to be unfair and they intend to stop it, as they have done with other laws in the past that they felt were contrary to the French way of life.

The manifestations include people from all walks of life, and strangely to Celtic
minds, include school children. Around 380 schools were disrupted on Tuesday. (Kids learn early to protect their cherished way of life.)

Students too are protesting on the basis that keeping people at work for another two years will mean that there will be a shortage of jobs for them, as the normal process of retirement and promotion is interrupted.

There have been calls for a General Strike too, and it could happen, as people are more and more discontent with the right wing president and the way public services have diminished on his watch.

Of course many will say that les réformes des retraites is long overdue. There is a large pensions shortfall as there is in most countries. But I have a feeling that Sarkozy will end up ruing the day he tackled le public français on such a thorny subject. He may get his Bill through, but will he make it work? And he only has 18 months before the next presidential election!!


  1. The proposed raising of the retirement age in France from 60 to 62, is not Sarkozy being 'nasty', but attempting to get the pensions and welfare system to accept demographical change.

    These reforms are inevitable, and I hope Sarkozy faces these anarchists, communists and enemies within the Republic down.

  2. Hmmmm.... that's not the way it happens in France as a rule.

    To understand it Dean, you need to understand the French mindset. It's so incredibly different to the Brits'.

    They aren't anarchists or communists nor are they enemies... although there may be some of all of these in it, and of course there's always a few who will turn up for any ding dong, but most of them are just people who want to preserve 'la vie française'.

    The worker, the student and the banlieue resident, in partnership have been the end of various attempts at reforms.

    The message from the French people is:"You work for us, and we don't like the way you're doing it.Go and find another way of raising the money..."

  3. Tris,

    I am reminded of Burke here; looking across the channel at these revolutionaries - threatening to undo the Natural Law on which all societies are constructed.

    It is a fact, surely, that good government must act to preserve and maintain the 'natural rights' of man - and these rights are exactly what President Sarkozy is trying to preserve!

    "All men have equal rights: but not to equal things" - Burke

    It is time to realise that the French have tried to apply the nonsense of universal natural rights before, and it ended up in the destruction of society in 1789-1793; they then had to begin in the long crawl back to society, and civilisation.

    Society must be preserved here, real rights of man must be preserved here. These radicals, revolutionaries and anarchists seek to disregard good government, reality and the facts of traditional, precedent and demographical realities.

    They must be crushed, in order to preserve the real natural rights of man.

  4. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

    The way that the French refuse to roll over and let government walk all over them, the way that we usually do, and only didn't do on one occasion that I can remember (poll tax) is admirable in my opinion.

    There's always another way to find the money. Sarky just has to work a bit harder to find it.

    And in any case, we must never "crush" people. That never works out in the end.

  5. Oh do learn economics.

    If Sarko puts taxes on anything else, the people still pay for it.

    Tax the banks? They'll put up their service charges, so the consumer pays. Tax the business? Lower wages and less jobs, the consumer pays.

    You just can't magically make money from nowhere, someone has to pay.

    Sarko's tried to put it fair and even across the nation, and been upfront about it.

    If he settles on a tax elsewhere, it'll please les freres d'egalite but they'll still end up paying.

  6. When I woke earlier Tris, I switched on the radio and listened to what I gather was some well known French journalist talking about this. His view was that it would go ahead and the French knew that but they just liked to make their anger known. It seems as if the Bill is near completion but I didn't hear all the conversation.

    What doesn't do their cause good are the numbers of youngsters on the streets tormenting the police at night. Such a difference to the attitude of the workers in the day protests. But of course what's shown on TV isn't always the reality.

    I think Sarkozy will pass it and all will go back to normal until he starts cutting government jobs.

  7. Here here Subrosa, the behaviour of these young hoodlum is outrageous - a time spent in the prisons will do them all good!

    This law will pass, and in doing so it ensures that the French people have a sustainable, strong and healthy welfare and retirement system - for these kids to use this as an excuse to riot, cause chaos and attack the representatives or law and order is totally, completely unacceptable.

  8. Good post tris.

    Good on the French - the state should always be made aware that the people are not a supine mass to be pushed around without consequence! Unlike here.
    People who commit crimes will be dealt with as France sees fit no doubt (with or without the help of 'outrage' from this side of the channel).
    So what's left, lots of people in France don't like what Sarkozy proposes, and they take to demonstration. Good, that is what people ought to do.
    And if Sarkozy gets what he wants, so be it. Or if the taxes fall elsewhere, so be it. But if the French govt decides on more actions the people disagree with in sufficient numbers, then the position is very much different to what it would have been had noone demonstrated at this time. So while you can see it as a threat to order, it is in fact the only real mechanism by which large numbers of the people can signal government of their discontent. Even if it has no effect on the outcome in this instance it can be seen as having moved forward a dialogue between state and citizens.

    Dean, do tell us all more about Burke's ideas on Natural Law and what it means for how society ought to be ordered. Lol.

  9. Dean said..

    " I hope Sarkozy faces these anarchists, communists and enemies within"

    " They must be crushed"

    " This law will pass, and in doing so it ensures that the French people have a sustainable, strong and healthy welfare and retirement system "

    Admit it. You're on weapons grade crystal meth.

  10. Dean:

    Qu'ils mangent de la brioche = Let them eat cake

    It's not really very 21st century.

  11. Tris I know as a fluent French speaker with a keen interest in all things French. Having been often to all parts of France and with many French friends I think I will accept his assessment of the situation there and its likely outcome rather than that of Dean or S/R.

  12. Anon. If you’re going to take that tone with me, would you be so kind as to have a name.

    I really hate being patronised on my own blog by someone who can’t be bothered getting a blogger name.

    And I could add, oh do learn some grammar, but I’m too polite, and too aware that we all make mistakes! 

    As it happens of course someone has to pay. My economics may be sketchy but I’ve worked that out. In France of course, the banks just can’t go around putting up charges willy nilly, without the government’s permission. Even the right wing nutter Sarko had the decency to cap the amount of increase that the electricity and gas companies were allowed. (This is more than the supposedly socialist Brown.)

    This is not a matter of money to the protesters though . It is a question of people not being entitled to a pension at 60; people having to work into what the French consider their third age. It’s about the resultantly smaller number of jobs available for students and other young people in a country where youth unemployment is at 25%. To a certain extent it is a protest about Sarkozy, who is monumentally unpopular with the public. And of course it is a chance for the people from the run down suburbs to protest about their life, which isn’t up to much compared with the rest of the French.

    Put 1% on VAT; put up “essence”; tax the rich a bit more..... There are lots of things they can do and probably not cause too much fuss. This was a bad move by Sarko.

  13. This says it all and is what we should all aspire to.
    "It is about living; not about working. Work is necessary to allow one to live, but it is not life. Life is food and art and wine and politics and philosophy and fun and l'amour.... and some work."

  14. SR: I was listening to Agnès Poirier this morning. She doesn’t know whether the public will win or not, but one thing seemed for sure. The president won’t win.

    As I said to Anon. Part of the verve and enthusiasm for these demonstrations is the blind hatred of Sarkozy, and all his works. From his reforms of public services, which the French hold dear to their hearts, to the fact that he has acted like a complete prat in his personal life and brought ridicule upon France. Even among right wingers in France he is roundly hated. He thought that he could bring in Thatcherite/Blairite reforms in France and get away with it... and that was foolish.

    The Bill is in the Senate, voting on it was postponed last week when the demonstrations started. It may or may not go through this week.

    The French philosophy (having gone through violet revolution) is that “the streets” (the people) are the rulers in France, compared to an acknowledgement in the UK that the government and the Prime minister rule.

    The Brits did once, when they felt it was so unfair (and again when the prime minister was so unpopular) rise against the rule of law. And that got rid of the hated poll tax... and eventually the hated Mrs Thatcher.

    I suspect that Sarko and his good lady had better start looking for residential property in the near future. I can’t see another 5 years in the Elysee.


    This explains it better than I could.

  15. Dundee: Yes. That’s the point. Here the politicians of all stripes can get away with treating us like rubbish, because they know that we will purse our lips and shake our heads and mutter and disapprove, and with very few exceptions... put up with it.

    (Although to be fair, I see the current lot are governing by tryout. They leak something and see what the Daily Mail and the Sun (or President Obama) make of it, and then carry on or withdraw, depending.

    And in most of the country we will continue to vote in the way we always have, because for many it’s a ‘snob’ thing. In the Home Counties goodness me, it’s one’s maid that might vote Labour, or maybe the woman who comes in to do the heavy work. One has always voted conservative, as did one’s father and one’s grandfather... and the MP is the grandson of the man that one’s grandfather voted for.

    In Glasgow it’s because Labour is the party of the working man...erm yeah. And it’s only snobs what vote for the Tories!

    But although France can be quite class conscious even the well off expect public services to be up to scratch.

  16. Lordy Munguin, I wouldn't say I was an expert, but thanks for the compliment anyway.

    The real expert on these boards is of course Cynical Highlander....

  17. Talking of which... thank you CH. I was hoping that you wouldn't come on and disagree too violently with my angle on the situation :)

  18. "Dean, do tell us all more about Burke's ideas on Natural Law and what it means for how society ought to be ordered. Lol."

    Certainly, Burke explains that natural law dictates that there are natural rights, which derive from 'society' and without 'society' these rights cannot be expected to flourish.

    All change must be slow, careful and considered - which this has been; and must seek to ensure the inheritance of the next generation; as there is a social contract - but not between individuals and the ruler - but between the dead, those still living and those yet to be born.

    These rebels, anarchists, troublemakers demand absolute rights to absolutely everything - that leads to the collapse of society, it leads to a Hobbesian state where without society real rights become absent.

    Crush these fools and knaves who violate the natural laws of society, individuals and how change is supposed to come about!

  19. somepapfaedundeeOctober 20, 2010 4:55 pm

    Dean, thanks for that. Of course society is construct created or emergent from the interplay between the various agents within it. As such, there is no single society, societies take many forms. What was the society (or social order underlying it) that Burke held to be the natural order and what 'natural laws' were they that he held were society's foundation?

    wrt the French connection, surely then it is Sarkozy who goes against Burke's grain here - at a time of considerable uncertainty it is Sarkozy who seeks to break with the current fact and tradition of French society, it is the people who seek to maintain the 'French way'. Surely from Burke's pov it would be the case that Sarkozy is the one seeking to resolve an immediate problem, for which there may be other solutions, by imposing a new and permanent burden on the French society.
    Framed by your description of Burke's views, the miscreants here are not the French people, they seem to be the ones who want the current situation dealt with in a way which is 'slow, careful and considered', it is the French govt who seem intent on pursuing whatever strategy seems most ideological pleasing to them to solve a problem without any regard for the dead, doing or due citizens of France.

    I fail to see how Burke's opinions are in anyway relevant to your view of the situation (Govt = right, demonstrators = wrong).

    p.s. Perhaps you could also briefly enumerate the natural laws of society you refer to at the end of your post, thanks.

  20. It does seem that the French are less inclined than the British and Americans to simply suck up what their politicians throw at them. But of course in any democratic country, there is always the day of reckoning at the ballot box.

    The American public retirement system is a part of "Social Security," the signal accomplishment of FDR's New Deal of the 1930's. The full retirement age under FDR's 1935 program was 65, and it remained at 65 until the 1980's, when it was increased for younger participants in the program, to 67, in graduated increments.

    Today, the financial pundits are telling us that the Social Security trust fund will ultimately go broke unless the current retirement age is raised, benefits cut, or the separately collected Social Security tax is increased.....or some combination of those three things.

    Although Americans would never take to the streets like the French, the ballot box is another matter. Social Security is famously called the "third rail" of American politics. To fiddle with it means instant political death for an American politician....as if he had touched the high voltage third rail of an electrical subway track. So, in the past, when absolutely EVERYONE in Washington agreed that Social Security must be adjusted, the president appointed a bi-partisan blue ribbon commission of Democrats and Republicans to make "recommendations." Ultimately, it is the "recommendations" that Congress votes on, not any specific provisions, such as an increase in retirement age, for example. Thus, political cover is provided for all.

    I sympathize a bit with Sarkozy, struggling with the actuarial realities of an increasing life span, and a greater ratio of retirees to workers. But he seems to be facing even more than the usual political realities here. The French, as Tris has vividly described, obviously take a decidedly more personal and active interest in such matters.

  21. danny said..

    " I sympathize a bit with Sarkozy "

    I wouldn't bother Danny. This is the guy who spends £660 a day of taxpayers money on flowers for his palace. He's just purchased a new private jet at £140million.
    It's always the mugs who pay the taxes that get dumped on. Never the politicians who will retire well before 62 or the bankers who should be in prison for causing the problem but are getting bonuses in France aswell.
    The whole EU system is corrupt and if we had any cohones we'd be doing more than spouting off in blogs and writing cross letters to the newspapers.

  22. Dean's bottle of "ISM"

  23. That's interesting Danny. Most social security payments here are a splendid chance for politicians to have a go without ruffling too many feathers. Unemployment and sickness benefits are always portrayed as the provence of lazy scroungers...regardless of the fact that there are no jobs.

    Pensions and age related things are different, but for all that we have the lowest retirement pensions, set as a percentage of average salary in the whole EU, at about 30%.

    As the internationally agreed poverty line is 60% of average salary, that makes our pensioners very very poor.

    Mainly thanks to Mrs Thatcher.

  24. Good point Dundee.

  25. Ukipper: Yeah that's what I was saying about him.The French loathe him from what I can make out. He came to office as a huge fan of Blair and Thatcher. Two worse role models I can't imagine.

  26. Tris....There was a time in the US, when politicians were more than happy to deal with Social Security. This was during the years when they would, generally just before an election, RAISE benefits.

    But then the system was put on a cost of living escalator, and raising the benefits from time to time was taken out of the hands of the politicians. The cost of living adjustments then occurred yearly, and automatically, according to the rate of inflation.

    These days, the system faces lengthening life spans and, as the baby boomers retire, many fewer workers paying into the system in relation to the number of retirees (pensioners) taking benefits out of it. So at some point, there will be a need to take steps to bring the system into step with new financial realities. Hard political decision have to be made involving cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, or increasing the Social Security tax on workers and employers. These hard decisions are that "third rail" that no politician wants to touch.

    Individual benefits in the US are based on workers' average salary during their years of employment.....and therefore the total Social Security tax they paid during their working life. I don't know how average US benefits compare with those in France. But Americans would be more than happy to receive full benefits at the age of 62.....not to mention age 60. In 1935, when FDR signed Social Security into law, the retirement age under the system was set at 65. It remained at that level for about 50 years, until it was raised, for NEW retirees, to 67, in graduated increments....(although sharply reduced benefits can be received as early as 62.)

    The idea of politicians debating openly such a thing as setting a new retirement age seems unthinkable in the US. The last time that the retirement age was increased, there was real political anguish involving the voting on a commission recommendation to that effect. It passed, but only because politicians could say honestly (but technically) that they never actually voted to raise the retirement age....they just voted on a commission recommendation.

    Politicians generally speak very nicely about Social Security, because, since it's not means tested, is a system that benefits all levels of society and all the voters. On the other hand, politicians (especially Republican politicians) regularly have a go at means tested programs like welfare and unemployment benefits, not a part of the Social Security system, and paid out of general tax revenues. These are programs which benefit only the poor and unemployed. And the poor are people who are less likely to vote....and are certainly less likely to vote Republican.

  27. Funnily Danny, what you report pretty much mirrors the system here. We probably copied you. At one time the pension was raised annually by the rate of the average pay increase, but Mrs Thatcher probably after staring lovingly into Ronnie’s eyes, decided that the rate of inflation (usually lower) would be much better.

    Of course most politicians know that it is suicide to have a go at old people. There are still many in the UK who are dirt poor and who shiver all winter in under heated, drafty, single glazed, and sometimes damp houses. Often they live in just one room, where they eat, watch tv and sleep, in order to save money on electricity or gas.

    Everyone would be horrified that there would be a cut, but no one campaigns much for rises, because that might mean tax increases for them!

    The UK pension is the lowest in the EU, when measured against the average salary. Some thing I am ashamed of.

    Since Gordon Brown knocked the bottom out of company pension schemes, and the fall in the stock market signalled that private pension schemes are worth almost nothing unless you live to 120, British pensioners are really poor.

    Like the US unemployment benefits are always a good thing to cut, and indeed ours are now at a level where people can't much afford to live unless they have a dozen kids.

    £65 a week to pay for food, heat, transport, clothes, water rates, tv licence, etc, is really hard going (and that drops to £55 under 25!).

    It used to be non means tested for 12 months. Thatcher reduced that to 6 months and Cameron has just got rid of that!