• In France, a Sunday lunch of a roast chicken is a time-honoured tradition. The dish, the French people’s favourite, is available to just about everyone. You can find organic free-range chickens for 20 euros, as well as poultry for less than ten euros, often sold in halal butchers’ shops, where broke students can only afford a bag of potatoes. It is also a symbol of French agriculture, which continues to raise alongside battery chickens.

    But since 2022, the French chicken market has been in crisis. The lifting of restrictions on the entry of Ukrainian poultry into the European Union’s market has left the industry facing unexpected competition. In the first half of 2022, Ukrainian chicken imports into France rose sharply by 120 percent, and have since grown at a more moderate rate. With the Russian blockade of the Black Sea, Ukraine can “no longer export to the Middle East [by ship], which was one of its main customers,” explains Yann Nédélec, director of the poultry producers’ association.“It has switched to Europe, via lorry.” 

    French poultry farmers see the massive arrival of chickens up to four times cheaper than their own as unfair competition. 

    Ukraine does not have to comply with the same quality standards as countries of the European Union, and has huge farms with over a million head of poultry, whereas the largest French farms number only a few tens of thousands. In addition, massive exports to the EU mainly benefit one man, the oligarch Yuriy Kosiuk, who controls 80 percent of the Ukrainian poultry market via his company MHP. This mega-business is based in Cyprus and listed on the London Stock Exchange. 

    In June, the industry asked the Minister for Agriculture to “activate the European safeguard clause to halt the asphyxiation of the sector” and suspend imports.

    Unexpectedly, this request met with little response from the political class, even on the far right.

    For French soldiers and officers, their deployment in Romania since 2022 has been a practical apprenticeship in NATO. This might be a surprise given that the French army is the third largest in NATO, but France has had a complicated relationship with the Alliance over the decades.

    In 1966 Charles de Gaulle withdrew the country from the integrated command, while more recently, Emmanuel Macron said the organisation was experiencing “brain death” in 2019. Since the early days of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Paris has become more involved, sending troops to Romania to “reinforce NATO’s defensive and deterrent posture” and “consolidate the protection of Europe’s eastern flank”, according to the ministry of defence.

    The Aigle mission, part of the Rapid Reaction Force, now includes around 1,000 French troops. They work with Belgian, Dutch, Romanian and US soldiers in Constanța, on the Romanian Black Sea coast. For the French army, more accustomed in recent years to operating in a desert environment and facing terrorist groups, this is a major change. In Romania, it is working in coalition to act as a deterrent against Russia. 

    For an incoming enemy missile, the Romanian airbase of Mihail Kogalniceanu is only seven minutes’ flight from occupied Crimea. If Moscow pushed its invasion further west, this Aigle Mission would form the first line of defence. Now French soldiers have to learn how to make different equipment work together, learn the doctrines and tactics of their allies and improve interoperability.

    The French army is also getting used to different deployment conditions. Its Leclerc tanks had to be brought in by rail, as Germany does not allow such huge tanks to cross its territory. This military hardware also needs warming up with hot air during the winter to protect its electronic systems. The Aigle mission is set to grow: it is expected to have 6,000 soldiers by 2025, making it France’s largest deployment abroad.

    Le Havre has long been nicknamed “Stalingrad-on-Sea”. To the eyes of many, its straight avenues lined with identical grey concrete buildings, built after the Second World War, were depressing and the city was considered one of the ugliest in France.

    Towns on the Normandy coast paid the highest toll to the war: they were massively bombed, and Le Havre suffered the most destruction. 82% of the buildings were razed.

    In the place of the ruins, architect Auguste Perret created a giant experiment. This was long criticised, but the inhabitants have since managed to change the way the city is seen, and obtained a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2005.

    “We must prepare France for +4 degrees of warming,” Christophe Béchu, the minister for ecological transition, admitted in February. Today, France is experiencing +1.8 degrees of warming, which is already having far-reaching consequences. Given that the world is heading for at least a three degree rise by 2100, and that France is heating up faster than the global average, this prediction is not an exaggeration.

    At +4 degrees, heatwaves could last for two months, heat peaks could reach 50ºC for several days in a row, the wildfire season would last twice as long as today, and blazes could ravage the north of the country. Snow would disappear in the mid-mountains, and rainfall would be much more intense and sudden in the plains, with an increased risk of flooding.

    Beyond the global strategies to try to avoid the scenario of global warming, France has started to think about preparing for the worst. How can we adjust to such a future? This is the question posed by the government, which has launched a national online consultation. The results, which will be collected over the summer, will help define a new plan for adapting to global warming.

    One of the biggest challenges is preparing public infrastructure for such conditions. Some roads will have to be relocated because of the risk of flooding and railways will have to be redesigned because today’s TGV can’t run when the ground temperature is above 57 degrees.

    Another key issue is to help municipalities adapt to extremely high temperatures. Roofs and walls could be painted in white to reflect heat, pipe networks should be repaired to avoid loss of drinking water, wastewater could be reused on an individual (shower water for toilets) or collective level.

    All this will cost money. “The adaptation measures to be taken now will represent at least an additional 2.3 billion euros per year,” the government has already warned.

    “We are strong, we are proud, we are feminist, radical and angry”. In recent weeks, this classic hymn of feminist protest has echoed through demonstrations against the Government’s pension reform. Women are at the forefront of dissent to the policy, which plans to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 and to increase the number of active years required to obtain a full pension.

    Women will be the biggest losers. In France, as elsewhere, women’s careers are often interrupted. They are the ones who take breaks from work to bear and raise children. They also tend to be the ones who work part-time to care for sick or ageing family members. Plus they are often shut out of leadership roles or positions of responsibility, which are largely entrusted to men.

    The consequences of this sexist career structure are economic: women in France earn on average 15.8% less than men. It is even worse once they reach retirement age: women’s pensions are 28% lower on average than those of men.

    The pension reform risks reinforcing these inequalities by asking women to work longer. Even the Minister Delegate for Parliamentary Relations, Franck Riester, has acknowledged that “women are somewhat penalised by the postponement of the legal retirement age”.

    Other factors also play a role, such as the non-recognition of the arduous nature of certain jobs, mostly carried out by women, which deprives them of obtaining early retirement.

    In the protests, women’s collectives are hijacking songs and choreographing militant dances to make these inequalities more visible. This year, the traditional Women’s Day demonstration on 8 March has a socially conscious slogan: the abandonment of this anti-feminist pension reform.

    In 2022, electricity production in France decreased by 15% compared to 2021, to its lowest level in 30 years. To compensate, the country imported electricity for the first time since 1980.

    This unprecedented situation, in the context of an energy crisis, is due to a drop in nuclear power generation. France’s reactors are ageing and half were shut down at the same time last winter for maintenance.

    Yet the nuclear lobby is still strong: Europe’s attempt to move away from energy dependence on Russia has bolstered its case.

    Can you imagine a nativity scene without Mary, without Joseph, and without even Baby Jesus? That is what is happening in the small town of Beaucaire – because the mayor wants to circumvent a 100-year-old French secularisation law.

    This prohibits the installation of religious symbols, such as a newborn in a manger, in public buildings, in order to keep public service neutral. After having been convicted on several occasions, the municipality decided this year to keep the nativity scene inside the town hall, but without its main characters.

    “They sue us three or four times a year for this beautiful cultural exhibition. What sense of priorities do these people have?” complained the mayor. These ‘people’ are, in fact, the prefecture, the representative of the French state, who regularly takes the municipality of Beaucaire to court for not respecting secularism.

    Since their election less than ten years ago, a new wave of far-right mayors has decided to turn nativity scenes into a battlefield, by installing them in their town halls. In their eyes, it is not a religious symbol but a cultural tradition.

    Their vision of secularism is also very flexible. They are its most ardent defenders of neutrality when it comes to prohibiting the construction of a mosque, yet they do not hesitate to violate it when it comes to Christian tradition.

    Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers who started the trend of nativity scenes in town halls, was not only convicted of not respecting secularism. He was also found guilty of ‘provocation to hatred’ in 2017 for saying that there were too many Muslim children in his town’s schools.

    This obsession with nativity scenes does not stem from a simple love of the Christmas spirit, as some far-right mayors would have us believe. It is part of a xenophobic and Islamophobic political agenda.

    While purchasing power plummets throughout Europe, in Belgium wages continue to rise. This is because the salaries of civil servants and private sector workers are indexed to inflation. The same applies to pensions and social welfare. Every 1 January or four to five times a year, depending on the industry or sector, salaries increase according to the “smoothed health index”. Its calculation is slightly different from inflation, as it does not take into account the price of alcohol, tobacco or petrol.

    The indexation of wages to inflation was introduced gradually at the beginning of the 20th century. It has survived the changes in the labour market, globalisation and the oil shocks which led Belgium’s neighbours to abandon similar systems. Today, Belgium is the only country in Europe, along with Luxembourg, to benefit from such a scheme.

    During each economic crisis, the same debate resurfaces: should this mechanism be modified? Belgian employers are regularly calling for a freeze in automatic indexation, arguing that the policy puts them at a disadvantage versus their neighbours.

    Today, with inflation reaching over 12%, the highest rate since 1975, employers’ unions want to establish an income ceiling above which indexation would be reduced or abolished. On the other hand, 73% of Belgians believe that the mechanism is insufficient, due to the explosion in energy prices, according to a survey in Le Soir newspaper.

    However, the results are visible. According to forecasts by the Bank of Belgium, the purchasing power of Belgians should increase by 0.3% in 2022. This compares to a fall of 6.8% in the neighbouring Netherlands.

    10,000 French fans are expected to make the trip to Qatar. This is one third of the 27,000 French attendees at the previous World Cup in Russia, and almost half the 17,000 who traveled to Brazil in 2014.

    In Doha, even the tricolor shirts are discreet. Libération’s correspondent did not see a single one during the opening ceremony.

    Supporters have suggested several reasons for this drop: from the difficulties of having a holiday in the winter, and higher costs to some fans’ concerns about supporting a disastrous World Cup in terms of human rights.

    When Iranian suicide drones slammed into Ukrainian cities, the new reality dawned on Western Europe: Ukraine needs an effective anti-aircraft shield to protect its people from these terror attacks.

    Paris, criticised over its meagre military support for Kyiv, has pledged its help. On October 12, Emmanuel Macron announced the delivery of “radars, anti-aircraft systems and missiles to protect Ukrainians from attacks, especially drone attacks.”

    After getting to grips with ‘Caesar’ self-propelled howitzers, Ukrainian soldiers will now have to learn how to handle ‘Crotales’, French-made air-defence missile batteries. Paris has committed to supplying them to Ukraine within two months. Although the quantity was not specified, it will be limited: the French army itself has only twelve Crotales.

    Though helpful in the war, they will have very limited impact on the drone battle, according to military expert Vincent Tourret. “The Crotales are rather designed to shoot down aircraft or missiles. They are more likely to be used to hit Russian Sukhoï helicopters or intercept cruise missiles in the terminal phase. It would not be very cost-effective to use them against drones. With their range of only four kilometres, the German Gepard guns would be more effective.”

    By helping Ukraine, Paris also wants to support its own arms industry. It has set up a fund of 100 million euros, “from which Ukrainians can buy whatever they want, provided that the supplier is French,” said Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu.

    Kyiv has reportedly begun using the fund to buy motorised pontoon bridges to help cross rivers. However, this solution has one important limitation: production time. Unlike selecting them from army stocks, the production process is lengthy. On average, it takes a year from order to delivery of a 155-mm shell.