What can Nuit Debout achieve?

The Nuit Debout demonstrations continue and have spread to other countries. Symbolically showing themselves to be more active than the government, protesters in a number of cities are also gathering at night. Is this the emergence of a new alternative ahead of the 2017 presidential elections?

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Alternatives économiques (FR) /

France's malfunctions are being exposed

The Nuit Debout movement is putting a spotlight on the weaknesses in France's political system and thus ties in with a long tradition, Alternatives Economiques explains:

“Large and repeated protests have a long tradition in France. They point to a widespread problem in French society: its chronic inability to produce parties and unions that are able to represent the people effectively. The state functions increasingly like a monarchy, and this trend is also reflected in the vertical management structures at companies. Clearly these problems have not been overcome in recent decades.”

La Tribune (FR) /

Protest must be followed by dialogue

Jérôme Cohen, co-founder of platform Engage, describes what it will take for the protests in France to bring about a new, more democratic brand of politics:

“A liberating scream may constitute an important step, but merely voicing dissatisfaction is not enough. We need an exchange of opinions and new proposals for inclusive cooperation. Of course that means things get more complicated. How can people be motivated to espouse complex solutions and seek a firm consensus? That is exactly where the real struggle begins. And it won't be easy: witness the institutional blockade with Podemos in Spain, where fresh elections are in the offing. This popular 'insurrection' which is clearly setting itself apart from divisive ideologies and old forms of government will only succeed if it is collective, pragmatic and positive-minded.”

Le Temps (CH) /

Social rifts becoming apparent

After French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut was chased from the Place de la Républic in Paris amid insults by members of the Nuit Debout movement, he and others have called the protesters undemocratic. Nuit Debout highlights just how divided France is, the daily Le Temps comments:

“Its increasingly radical nature is exposing cracks that the French political and intellectual system is no longer able to repair. ... A month after its inception, Nuit Debout embodies the flip side of the French Republic a year before the presidential elections of 2017. Part of France's youth, tired of broken promises, is tempted by radicalism. And a radical leftist fringe entertains the myth of a new dawn. A large part of the right, by contrast, wants order more than anything else.”

L'Express (FR) /

Franch want programmes, movers and shakers

Neither the protesters in the Nuit Debout movement nor Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron and his new party seem serious about change, Jacques Attali writes on his blog for L'Express:

“Both remain caught up in abstractions, illusions and virtual worlds. In short, in the same shadow theatre as the rest of this country's public figures. The people of France want programmes and men of action. The politicians are pretending to act. The activists of Nuit Debout are pretending to work out a programme. But in both cases neither are doing anything; or rather anything that could substantially improve the French people's lives. Can we hope that a more concrete movement with more concrete goals will soon see the light of day? ... If not, the next presidential election will come down to a choice between unwanted candidates without a programme.”

Le Temps (CH) /

Hollande's infuriating inaction

The anger of the French youth is entirely understandable, the liberal daily Le Temps believes:

“Back in 2012 the president put the youth right at the centre of his election campaign. How is it possible that he didn't make better use of his term in office to explain to young people how necessary it is to adjust to the reality of the job market and show them the way? What a shame. The 'nuit debout' movement that is now hoping to spark a new wave of protest is unfortunately undermined by a false sense of hope. The demonisation of the world of business in a France that is anything but booming does not augur well for the country. But the anger testified to by these nightly protests in Paris and throughout France, modeled on the 'Indignant' movement in Spain, must neither be underestimated nor swept under the carpet in the name of whatever type of realism.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

Without justice anger will continue to grow

The only way to appease the people's anger is with more justice, according to the liberal daily Philelefteros:

“In recent years economic inequality in particular has exploded. Millions of people have seen their incomes shrinking and their quality of life sinking. ... The refugee crisis and terrorism have only made matters worse. People are getting frightened now. The only way to combat their anger is to put an end to the inequality. There is a lot of wealth in this world but it is concentrated in the hands of the few. Societies must open up again and people's everyday lives must be improved. People’s fears must be addressed and solutions found to their problems. Otherwise the anger will only grow. And we will reach a point where it is too late for everyone.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Small reform better than none at all

After being watered down numerous times the planned labour law reform may no longer be the badly needed panacea it was supposed to be, but it is a step in the right direction, writes the liberal business paper Financial Times:

“The measures that will now be put to French lawmakers represent a substantive step forward, even after their dilution to exclude smaller companies. Large employers should be more willing to hire if they are given greater flexibility to negotiate with unions over working hours and are able to cut jobs at lossmaking plants in a downturn. These are far-reaching reforms that go further than any French president has yet ventured. ...Yet Mr Hollande’s approach - like that of his predecessors - remains one of incremental reform.”

Libération (FR) /

Valls' flexibility could pay off

The revised reform of the French labour law includes new measures for supporting unemployed youths. With this Prime Minister Valls may score a key victory in terms of public opinion, the centre-left daily Libération writes:

“No doubt he will escape the dire fate of former prime minister Alain Jupé in 1995, who refused to compromise on his reforms and finally had to back down in the face of major protests. Will that be enough to satisfy the marginal group of protesting youths? There can be no telling. As their leaders are calling for nothing less than for the reform to be abandoned it will be difficult for them to back down, even if their demand also applies to measures that are supposed to bring advantages for young people and employees. The situation of the younger generation is so bad that they are sticking to their guns. But if they continue, the government can pride itself on having listened to their criticism and reacted quickly. Flexibility can sometimes be useful.”

Le Point (FR) /

Much ado about nothing

The protests against the planned labour market reform are completely out of proportion, the centre-right weekly Le Point believes:

“As so often, the strikes and demonstrations seem to be disconnected from reality. They're like a comedy in which everyone has a role to play. ... Because in reality there's nothing in the law [introduced by French Labour Minister El Khomri]. If France were a reasonable, efficient democracy, this text would be seen as containing a package of adjustment measures for dealing with the poor state of the economy and the excessively high level of unemployment. Who seriously believes that the marginal changes to the labour law the government is planning will plunge us into ultraliberal chaos? The truth is that no one does, but that everyone from the confederation of trade unions CGT to the prime minister wants to justify their own existence. And the high school students must justify their absence from class.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

France remains unreformable

France is simply incapable of reform, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera writes:

“In a country where rather than saying 'fast food' people say 'consommation rapide' even mentioning the term 'job act' is seen as improper. … But if 'job act' threatens to become the term used to describe the Italian-style labour market reform, the socio-political psychodrama that has crippled France for years and prevented its government from introducing structural reforms - from pension reform to an overhaul of the public sector - and cutting the budget deficit starts all over again. … Nor is there any news on "flexicurity", a principle applied almost everywhere in Europe [based on a compromise between laxer job protection and job security] with the exception of France. Another complicating factor is that the planned measures have been communicated very poorly to the public, with the result that opposition to the measures has turned into an ideological campaign, rather than focussing on their content.”

Ouest France (FR) /

Last-minute scramble before 2017

The French Socialists are paying the price for their failures of recent years, the regional daily Ouest-France believes:

“The same mistakes have been made ever since the president took office. While still in the opposition, the left didn't do enough to secure grassroots support from all sides. And once in power its projects have been consistently opposed both by those who voted for Hollande and by parliament. ... Because it lacks popular trust, each of the Socialist Party's undertakings has ended in an ideological power struggle. Because it lacks method it has been unable to identify ways of responding to the despair of millions of French citizens. Every-man-for-himself actions at the end of a mandate are not the way to implement major reforms. And they are not the way to secure jobs for 3.55 million unemployed.”

Le Courrier (CH) /

Hollande can't beat Sarkozy like this

Hollande will strengthen populist tendencies with his labour market reform, the Christian-social daily Le Courier predicts:

“You can't create jobs by making working conditions more precarious. Otherwise Britain and the US wouldn't have such high poverty rates. ... In driving the people he should be protecting to despair, François Hollande is paving the way for full-scale populism. It's no coincidence that Nicolas Sarkozy is looking increasingly in Donald Trump's direction. For example, he has called [his party rival] Alain Juppé a 'system candidate' of 'the elites' and 'the media'. ... Meanwhile, he is busy casting himself as the new son of the people. [Hollande] must be congratulated for having made room for this type of ideology. More could have been expected of someone who lured voters with the slogan that his adversary was 'part of the financial establishment'.”

The Times (GB) /

Wannabe Schröder must stick to his guns

President François Hollande must hold his reform course if he wants to successfully restructure the country, the conservative daily The Times believes:

“The French have a fundamental choice to make. They must decide between an economy whose main goal is to protect the jobs of those lucky to have them and one whose goal is broad and rising prosperity for all. ... For the sake of his country, never mind his career, he must not blink. … Spain and Italy have responded to the trauma of the 2008 crash by reforming their labour markets in the teeth of socialist resistance. The effect has been marked. Like Germany under the social democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder, they have seen sharp falls in unemployment and welfare payments, and a belated return to growth. Mr Hollande has said that he hopes to be France’s Schröder. Whether he has the courage and constancy required remains to be seen.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

French people crippling politicians

The French people's unusual willingness to protest is preventing the political leadership from tackling reforms, the conservative daily La Vanguardia contends in view of the mass protests and strikes in France:

“French society has preserved an extraordinary potential to mobilise which has disappeared or become invisible in other major European states. In hardly any other country is the public so understanding when it comes to strikes. … This French particularity has grown stronger over the years. There is a fundamental discontent which explains all the votes going to the Front National. But as soon as any government tries to change fundamental aspects of a law that is blocking the reduction of unemployment, French society cries out and in the end everything is left as it was.”

Le Temps (CH) /

France not that reluctant to reform

The government in Paris can still save the reform despite the harsh criticism, the liberal daily Le Temps believes:

“Certainly, the fear of precarious jobs explains the success of the online petition seeking to oppose the controversial law. ... And yes, massive layoffs are feared in the case of deregulation, above all because French firms have lost their competitive edge. But on the eve of Hollande's fifth year in office we must be careful not to believe that things are written in stone. If real compensation is offered in exchange for increased flexibility, public opinion could yet be swayed. The most intransigent unions are no longer as strong as they once were. The rebellion of one section of the Socialist Party can be circumvented. In this stiff and rusty France, the situation may be more conducive to reforms than its seems.”

Libération (FR) /

Follow the example of neighbouring countries

France should forget its fears about easing the labour market and emulate the successful models of other European countries, the centre-left daily Libération believes:

“Why have all the countries of Europe - both social democratic and conservative - reformed their labour markets? Is this a widespread betrayal? Or collective blindness? Or is it an attempt to find new solutions to pressing problems even if it means making concessions? And why are the countries where the workforce is best protected also those with the highest unemployment rates? Just a coincidence? In fact most studies say that a flexible labour market favours a general drop in unemployment, even if it's only to a limited extent. The first successes chalked up here by the Renzi government are eloquent. That, and not simplistic slogans, is what should be occupying our thoughts.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

Don't give in to trade unions

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls must not make too many concessions when negotiating with opponents of his reform, the liberal business paper L'Opinion urges:

“Working time accounts, the right to periods offline, additional union holidays. These could be called concessions, but as always they will put an additional burden on companies. Including, that is, those that are now healthy but which will suffer new constraints on a daily basis so that simplified procedures can be used in times of crisis. What a paradox! It will be difficult to gain ground in the trench war over the proposals put forward by opponents of Labour Minister El Khomri's law. But in making too many concessions in order to save his reform, the prime minister risks bringing about the opposite of what his law seeks to achieve. Manuel Valls must stand firm. Or postpone the discussion of his law.”