French Strikes Strike German Politicians

by Denis Boyles

For those who enjoy eurozone entertainment, the fracture in German chancellor Angela Merkel’s government over the blind eye the EU has always turned toward French indifference to eurozone regulations adds a 3-D effect to the retirement reform strikes now gripping France.

A report in Deutsche Welle (via’s press briefing):

The European Union will be put to the test unless it tightens the measures in its Stability and Growth Pact, according to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Westerwelle said in a keynote speech to the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin on Thursday that he was worried about Europe, “because we will lose the people’s support if we simply proceed with our agenda after this crisis.”

In renewed criticism of an agreement between Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to drop demands for automatic sanctions on countries that breach the eurozone’s deficit ceiling, Westerwelle urged political cooperation across Europe to toughen the Growth and Stability Pact.

“It is crucial that sanctions are not subjected to political opportunism,” Westerwelle said.

Well, politically, the EU is the land of opportunity, isn’t it. And Sarkozy, facing a rising debt contrary to eurozone rules, no doubt thought removing the automatic sanctions would give him some leeway in dealing with the huge difficulties faced in rolling back even the smallest of French entitlements. But in fact, the application of automatic sanctions might have given Sarko a little added leverage and made it more clear that the gripes of state employees about changing the age of retirement from a pimply 60 to a still-young 62 should be directed at Brussels, not at him. He’s only following orders. The French get that.

Good thing the French army is following orders, too. Their removal of blockades around refineries has enabled some fuel to get through to desperate motorists. Here in western France, two major supermarket chains (whose pumps provide the best value, if gas at $8 a gallon is a “value”), cars were lined up yesterday evening. Limited rationing is in effect. According John Lichfield, writing in the Independent, the inconvenience of the action is beginning to erode the nutty poll support for the striking workers and their teenage accomplices.

The French Senate is expected to pass the retirement reform as early as today.

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