Spring of protest in France

French rail workers and students are protesting against President Emmanuel Macron's reform plans. The strike at the SNCF has already paralysed parts of the country and students are occupying university buildings. European media discuss what is at stake for French society - and for the French president.

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Radio Europa Liberă (RO) /

Can France be reformed?

The government must not cede in the confrontation with the railway workers, writes Radio Europa Liberă:

“The SNCF has 150,000 employees who enjoy by no means negligible advantages: they have a lifetime guarantee on their jobs, a good salary plus benefits and bonuses, plenty of paid holidays, comprehensive healthcare - and on top of all that they have the option of retiring at 50. ... At the same time the railway company is in deficit and any attempt at reform is seen as an attack on the sacred 'public service'. While during the strike in 1995 a large part of the population was on the strikers' side despite the disruptions, public opinion today is considerably more reticent. So far the government has no intention of giving in. If it did it would only reaffirm France's image as an unreformable country.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Monsier le Président is everywhere

The Süddeutsche Zeitung doesn't believe that the protests will become dangerous for Macron:

“The president has initiated so many laws that most citizens don't even know which ones they think are good and which ones they find bad. Amidst the general confusion there is only one person who has the overview: Monsieur le Président. … What the French complain of today is forgotten by tomorrow. This strategy of creating a major building site could backfire on Macron if he annoys everyone at the same time thus promoting the kind of alliances his opponents dream of. But France is still a long way from such unity against the president.”

Le Jeudi (LU) /

Unions fighting for survival

After sidelining the political parties Macron is now targeting the unions, Le Jeudi observes:

“As a model pupil of unregulated capitalism, Macron now wants to settle scores with the unions. For him this is the key battle. His goal is to organise an unrelenting contest of wills so that the unions will exhaust themselves in the fight. Only if he emerges as the victor will he be able to press on with the deregulation of French economy. For the unions that means they must win this battle if they want to avoid being wiped off the sociopolitical map.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

State must impose its authority

The French government must take rigorous steps and restore order, Le Figaro urges:

“While it backed down regarding the construction of the airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, in clearing out the activists occupying the site the government has underlined the fact that France is governed by the rule of law and will not let itself be dictated to by a minority. After so much procrastination under François Hollande, it was crucial to reaffirm this before the activists dared to occupy other infrastructure projects. This same authority must now prevail in the universities, which have also been taken hostage, and in all the Republic's other lost territories. And it must be used against the rail workers - in a different way, of course. But what's at stake is the same: the rejection of decline.”

Mediapart (FR) /

Together against Macron's liberalisation

Mediapart publishes a guest commentary signed by more than 100 academics and intellectuals calling on protesters to join forces:

“We're convinced that these campaigns - to defend the Notre-Dame-des-Landes site, the SNCF, truly open universities and a humane refugee policy - are intimately linked and part of one and the same movement. ... Emmanuel Macron and his government have ushered in the final stage of the automatic and systematic destruction of the public services (and their employees). The brutal cycle of 'reforms' aimed at liberalising these services has only just begun, and is of course aimed at paving the way for their privatisation. To bring this project to fruition the government is first and foremost targeting the sectors from which the toughest resistance can be expected.”