“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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.