Labour Market Reforms fire up the French
For several months now, protests have been taking place in many cities against the government’s labour reforms. The legal project, also known as loi El Khomri
(“El Khomri law” named after the Secretary of State for Employment Myriam El Khomri), aims at reforming the French labour market by making it easier for employers to hire and fire workers and by loosening the rigid 35-hour week. It also gives more freedom to companies to reduce salaries and negotiate holidays and special leaves (for maternity, wedding, etc.) of their employees. The reforms should stimulate the labour market and help to create new jobs the country’s unemployment rate being higher than 10 %.
Opponents of the law claim that it reduces workers’ rights and might be abused by employers.
The government of President Hollande is facing criticism from all sides as well as from within the socialist party.
Weekly protest marches all over France are organised especially by highschool and university students and the French trade unions. Lately, many of these demonstrations turned violent as groups of mainly young participants clashed with security forces.
Another phenomenon which has occurred in several cities during the ongoing protests are the gatherings of the so called Nuit debout (‘Up All Night’). Protestors taking part in this movement hold assemblies on central squares in the evenings and at night, delivering speeches, discussing or simply showing presence, underlining their opposition to the governments’ plans.
Despite of the protest the government held on to its reform. Prime Minister Valls affirmed the government’s willingness to force through the controversial law by applying the rarely applied Article 49.3 of the French Constitution. This Article enables the government to bypass the parliament. The project was thus adopted by the National Assembly in the middle of the month of May, causing a new wave of protests and harsh criticism against the French government.
Minister of Economy founds own movement
In the beginning of April the French Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron hit the headlines announcing he had founded a new political movement called En marche!
(‘Forward!’). He explained the movement should be open to everyone and did not represent a specific political party. Supporters from left and right parties were welcome. The goal of the movement, according to Macron, is to develop new ideas to solve problems in French society and politics which were blocking the country’s progress.
This immediately triggered speculations about whether Macron intended to declare himself a candidate for the presidential elections. Those rumours were fuelled by the information that Macron was organising a fundraising to finance his movement. Many believe the funds could support a possible presidential campaign. However, Macron denied any interest in the highest political office stressing it was not his “priority”.
Nevertheless, his initiative could have a considerable impact on French politics: the former investment banker Macron is considered as one of its most charismatic figures whilst President François Hollande’s popularity has decreased more than ever. Experts confirm however, that a declaration of his candidature for the presidential elections would present too great a risk for Macron as this would force him to resign from his current office immediately.
‘The Belly of Paris’ gets a new golden roof
After five years of reconstruction, the golden (or sandy) roof of the Parisian district Les Halles was inaugurated in April. La Canopée des Halles will in future cover a huge cultural centre, a big shopping mall and the heart of Paris’ public transport. However, the construction of these parts Les Halles
are still under construction until 2018.
Called Le Ventre de Paris
(‘The Belly of Paris’) by the French novelist Émile Zola in the book of the same name (also know as ‘The Fat and the Thin’) in 1873, Les Halles has always been a controversial issue in Paris.
After the transfer of Paris’ central market in 1969 to the Parisian southern suburbs Rungis and the demolition of the market’s buildings between 1971 and 1973, the biggest underground train station in the city and the shopping mall Forum des Halles were built in the following years. Already during the construction phases, opponents criticised upcoming maintenance costs and – what is especially unattractive for tourists – the long distances between connecting trains and subways and the high risk of disorientation in this unstructured area.
The mayor of Paris started an architecture competition in 2004 to give the district a different concept and a new appearance. But the reconstruction work only started ten years later and is now complete besides the gardens and parts of the new public transport area. The costs for the Canopee are estimated at 250 million euros – double the original amount – which is another point on the critics’ list.
It remains to be seen if this building complex will integrate in the cityscape and especially if Parisians appreciate it.