• Farmers in France work around 55 hours a week, compared with 37 hours for the “average” worker. No other profession labours as hard as them.

    Their working and living conditions have deteriorated in recent years. They face falling incomes, high debt, rising production costs, farm closures and a lack of free time.

    In an attempt to win concessions from the government, farmers have been blocking several roads around Paris since Monday. Among other measures, they are hoping for a law prohibiting the purchase of agricultural products for less than cost price. But by blocking roads, farmers also risk losing the support of the public.

    France has been examining whether to change its law on euthanasia. Denis Berthiau, a lecturer at Université Paris-Cité, specialising in Bioethics Law, looks into this issue.

    What is the situation regarding the right to die in France?

    More than a year ago, Emmanuel Macron expressed the desire to change the current law (euthanasia as active assistance in dying is still prohibited by the Penal Code). To this end, a citizens’ convention was convened in early 2023.

    It came to two conclusions. On the one hand, it recognised the need to improve dying in France by guaranteeing better access to palliative care. On the other, it recognised the need to take into account certain situations in which requests for assistance are made, and to develop a legal framework for assisted dying, either in the form of assisted suicide or “euthanasia”.

    What’s the difference between “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia”?

    With “assisted suicide”, the patient initiates the act that causes their death. In this sense, it is indeed a suicide. In “euthanasia”, the lethal act is carried out by the doctor and his team. It always takes place at the patient’s request, in the framework of medical assistance in the dying process. The difference, then, lies in the degree of medical involvement in the act of accompanying a patient to death. And it is precisely this point which is undoubtedly delaying the government’s project.

    Macron speaks of an “ethical vertigo” regarding this issue. Why?

    Most medical issues provoke an “ethical vertigo”. Reducing end-of-life issues to whether or not to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide is far too simplistic. But it is certain that the new law will not solve all the problems. It will only benefit a few people. The vast majority of patients do not want to hasten their death. Nor will the law concern people at the end of their lives who are incapable of expressing their wishes. But the fact that the ethical challenge may seem vertiginous doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle it.

    How different are France and Germany’s approaches to managing extreme right-wing movements? Bénédicte Laumond, lecturer in political science at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, reveals the contrasting policies.

    What policies does France have to combat right-wing radicalism?

    France has no real public policy against right-wing radicalism. However, the public authorities take measures to curb certain right-wing extremist groups, for example by monitoring the activities of the most violent ones. When the judiciary sentences radical right-wing activists for hate speech, it also regulates the activities of this political faction.

    How can France better equip itself to combat this problem?

    It is possible to transfer certain German measures to France, but they must be adapted to the French political culture, which is characterised by a watertight division, in people’s minds, between radical right-wing parties such as the Rassemblement National and non-party radical right-wing groups, which are more prone to violence.

    For most French people, it is unacceptable to touch the former, while the latter can be the subject of measures that are, for the moment, repressive. The introduction of preventive initiatives to limit the influence of the latter could be an interesting option.

    How is Germany different in its approach?

    In Germany, right-wing radicalism is framed as a potential threat to the liberal democratic order, justifying the implementation of a coordinated set of repressive and preventive measures. In 1949, Germany enshrined in its constitution the need to guard against so-called extremist movements, i.e. those actively opposed to the values enshrined in the constitution.

    As a result, the Germans have developed a series of interrelated measures to contain the influence of extremist groups. Over the past twenty years, the German authorities, supported by a mobilised civil society, have invested heavily in the development of federal, regional and local programmes to prevent right-wing radicalism.

    These programmes fund civil society initiatives to combat right-wing radicalism on the ground, from programs to help radical activists disengage, to popular education projects and cultural events to promote tolerance.

    On 3 January 2021, the French military bombed a group of men gathered near the village of Bounti, in central Mali. All were “terrorists”, according to officials from France, which had a military presence in the Sahelian country from 2013 to 2022.

    A UN inquiry published three weeks after the attack rejected this hypothesis. Of the 22 people killed, 19 were civilians attending a wedding. The other three were armed men belonging to the Katiba Serma, a mysterious jihadist group. France has always contested the UN report, claiming to have shot down “jihadist fighters” identified after conducting a long “intelligence operation”.

    When it comes to public safety, France is an “anomaly”. This is the observation of several specialists, who have been concerned about the increase in fatal shootings by French police in recent years. The issue came back to the centre of public debate after the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager shot by police on 27 June in the Paris suburbs, after refusing requests to stop his car.

    This case is not isolated. French police have killed at least fifteen people since the start of 2022, due to the victims’ failure to comply with an order to stop – far more than their European neighbours. According to French police researcher Sébastian Roché, Germany has only recorded one fatal shooting at a moving vehicle in ten years.

    His calculations show that between 2011 and 2020, the police and gendarmerie in France killed almost 50% more than the German police, and over three-and-a-half times more than the British. The victim is typically a man under the age of 27, with an African or North African-sounding name, living in a working-class neighbourhood close to major cities.

    There are several possible reasons for this “French anomaly”. Researchers and MPs have pointed the finger at the reform of a law in 2017, which relaxed the use of firearms by police officers and led to a five-fold increase in killings of people in moving vehicles compared to 2012-2016, according to a recent study. The report also deplores shortcomings in the quality of candidates who serve in uniform officer training: almost one in five applicants is now admitted to the police ranks, compared to one in fifty ten years ago. 

    The increase in fatal police shootings has serious social consequences. They risk deepening the rift that divides French society into two rival camps: those who place order above all else, and those who denounce the racism and discrimination behind the deaths caused by the police.

    The video lasts fewer than 30 seconds, but has made the rounds on social networks. In Paris on Sunday 11 June, French Green MP Sandrine Rousseau did not hesitate to intervene in a scuffle between a cyclist and a cab driver on her way to the market.

    These quarrels have become far too frequent in the French capital, where the number of bike journeys has increased by 79% between 2019 and 2022. The number of cycle paths has also boomed, but not at the same rate, and many drivers still have trouble sharing the road with cyclists, who sometimes risk their lives on the streets. The number of cyclists involved in accidents reached 1,611 in 2022, compared with 676 three years earlier.

    In a couple of months, Paris’s roads should be less overcrowded. In a local referendum in early April, inhabitants voted in favour of banning self-service scooters, which Parisians have heavily criticized since their introduction in 2018.

    Zemorda Khelifi, a member of green party Europe Ecologie les Verts (Europe Ecology The Greens), is vice-president of the Lyon metropolitan authority. From September, more than half of the city’s 9,600 local civil servants will be able to adopt the four-day week, if they wish.

    Why has the Lyon metropolitan authority decided to carry out this pilot scheme? 
    This trial fits in with the way ecologists see society, where quality of life, health and the environment are paramount. Ideally, we would like to reduce working time to a 32-hour week [instead of 36], but that’s out of our control. On the other hand, we hope to make our jobs more attractive at a time when we are finding it hard to recruit.  

    What benefits do you hope to gain from a four-day week?
    Trials carried out abroad, notably in the UK, Portugal and Iceland, have shown an improvement in the physical and mental health of workers, leading to a reduction in sick leave for employees. This should also have an impact on gender equality in the workplace. 80% of our part-time staff are women. By switching to a four-day week, they will be able to go back to full-time work if they so wish and receive full pay, while retaining a day off.

    Doesn’t the inevitable lengthening of the working day run the risk of undermining its intended effect? 
    That’s obviously a risk. But it will also make it possible to reduce commuting times, which have risen sharply in recent years. According to a survey we carried out in 2021, 50% of our employees have to travel more than thirty minutes between home and work, and 10% have to travel for longer than an hour. Having an extra day without work should also, at the very least, make up for this. It’s also important to remember that this is a voluntary experiment, and we’ll be assessing its effects and staff satisfaction after six months.

    Construction on the third reactor at the Flamanville nuclear power plant in northern France was approved in 2007 and should have been operational five years later, in 2012.

    But the project is dragging on and is expected to take at least 17 years to complete, at an estimated cost of 19.1 billion euros – nearly six times the original estimate. In December, the owner-operator EDF announced its postponement to the first quarter of 2024 because of work to repair welds with questionable quality.

    It seems the construction of a further European pressurised water reactor, designed to revive nuclear energy after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, is a real challenge.

    French journalist Olivier Dubois, who works with our newspaper Libération, was released on 20 March after 711 long days in captivity.

    711 days since he was kidnapped by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM, in Arabic) while he was reporting from Gao, in northern Mali.

    711 days that he was held hostage somewhere in the Sahel region. 711 days that he was the only known French hostage in the world. 711 days that this father of two missed his family, his friends, and his colleagues. 711 days that journalism missed him.

    711 days of silence, fear and hope. 711 days too many.

    Based in Gaziantep,Turkey, Hakim Khaldi is the head of studies for the Middle East zone in the French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, which is responding to humanitarian needs in northern Syria after the earthquake killed more than 37,000 people in the region, including more than 3500 in Syria.

    What are the current needs in Syria?
    On the medical side, there are needs at all levels. The majority of people living in the Idlib area are displaced, even multiple-displaced. When the earthquake happened on Monday (6 February), a lot of people flocked to the hospitals. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has one of the few burn hospitals in the opposition areas. We had to donate equipment, vehicles and medical teams to the affected areas. Border hospitals do not have the capacity to treat Syrians, many of whom are seriously injured, and most [nearby] Turkish hospitals have been destroyed or damaged. The current situation takes us back five years. There are even fewer hard buildings available and even more people living in tents.

    Syria is a country at war and many States do not recognise the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. How does this complicate the delivery of humanitarian aid?
    There are two main complexities. The first is that Syria is a country at war. The second is that Western countries cannot send bilateral aid because of US sanctions. In Turkey, on the other hand, aid has been sent by several states, including France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, they cannot land a humanitarian plane in Damascus or Aleppo. They are therefore dependent on border countries to deliver aid.

    Is this also complex because the region of Idlib, the last enclave of the Syrian opposition, is beyond the control of the regime?
    The regime does not provide any aid there. In northern Syria, the population is dependent on the international border crossing Bab al-Hawa, on the Syrian-Turkish border. The absence of bilateral aid has major consequences for MSF: our emergency stock is empty. We have to ask for emergency orders, but it takes time, since Turkey is itself affected by the earthquake. Since 2014, a UN resolution has renewed the Bab al-Hawa corridor every six months, which complicates the continuity of the healthcare system.