June 5. 2023. 5:57

The Daily

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The Brief — Get your act together, France

You who take to the streets to choke your country, who set it aflame, should look beyond the immediate perceived threat to the way you want to live your life. The true threat is not that the Elysée actively wants to make your life worse. It is the rise of autocracies, that would abolish personal freedoms entirely.

Autocracies legitimise their choking of personal freedoms through economic success. In order to remain a beacon of hope, to show that another way to wealth is possible, Europe is needed. In this, our success also depends on healthy budgets.

France spends 14.7% of its GDP on propping up the pension system, only beaten out by Italy’s 15.8%. Germany’s spending is 10.3% of GDP.

In Italy, people retire at 65, while the average retirement age of German workers is upwards of 64, on the road to 67, compared to France’s 62 years and three months.

In the EU’s triumvirate, that puts you dead last. And imperils your finances. Still, the French revolt against a reform that seeks to address this and – let this sink in – aims to make the pension system sustainable so that today’s protesters can indeed receive their own pensions when the time comes.

On Tuesday, protesters mobilised all over France, for the tenth time this year. What started as a protest against a controversial pension system reform by Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has snowballed into a violent uprising with little visible purpose.

Just yesterday, 175 policemen were injured, as the security forces are increasingly becoming the target of extremists who crest the wave of outrage.

Parisian supermarkets were raided by men dressed in black. In Lorient, protesters blocked railway tracks.

The pictures that the world sees are those of burning barricades, rocks thrown and a society deeply divided. France has seemingly ground to a halt. Nuclear electricity production is reaching new lows.

That is something we, as Europeans, can no longer afford, nor ignore, as your fellow countries.

Mankind faces a transformative decade. Great power conflict looms.

Fukuyama’s much-touted ‘end of history’ has never seemed further off. The ultimate victory of democracy and freedom seems less certain with every passing month. Illiberal systems threaten our security and our very way of life.

The pictures of rioters in one of the world’s richest countries, a champion of freedom, are wind in the sails of those who argue that Europe is in decline. Those who would impugn our way of life are thrilled to see you set fire to Paris.

Arguments in favour and against the pension reform have been discussed at length.

Yes, it would be an abrupt change instead of a slow phase-in like in Germany’s pension reform.

Yes, some people will be disproportionately negatively impacted.

Yes, the much-vaunted minimum pension of €1,200 was an exercise in PR.

And yes, utilising §49.3 of the Constitution on an issue so deeply personal to people was an excessive show of force.

But Macron is right in that the pension reform is necessary to ensure France’s financial stability going forward.

And financial stability along the Seine, lest it be forgotten, is a key aspect of the EU’s stability, as the bloc simply can not afford to have a “sick” economy in one of its largest and wealthiest members.

You, who abhor the pension reform, the way it was done, or just Emmanuel Macron personally, will not enjoy this part. But, we, your fellow Europeans, must ask that the French lay down the pitchforks and torches.

Your fellow EU countries need the French to stand firm and strong, in a stable and solid country.

Our only nuclear power and our second-largest economy cannot be choked by protests. Nor can it be governed by the extremes, who are the only ones to benefit from these protests. Europe and the EU need a strong and united France.

A new day of protests has been announced for 6 April. Until then, the French people and their government should capitalise on the careful, constructive signals that are being broadcast.

It seems that even the intrinsically radical French trade unions no longer want to watch on as they provide a soapbox to the radicals who would choke their country to death.

Already, one of mankind’s most crucial professions has seen the sign of the times: The garbage collectors of Paris are expected to resume work on Wednesday. Their trade union, the CGT, says “because we hardly have any strikers left.”

The French should strive to imitate their garbage collectors on this. The future of Europe may depend on it.

The Roundup

Nuclear fusion, which replicates the sun’s energy production, is a carbon-free technology that could help secure Europe’s energy supply and slash its emissions, according to European Commission official Massimo Garribba.

EU energy ministers were divided into two camps at the EU Council meeting on Tuesday: the pro-nuclear alliance, which includes France and 10 other member states, and the “renewable friendly” group, composed of 10 EU states.

Ten European cities took part in a pioneering experiment to gather citizens’ ideas on how to address air pollution and present possible solutions to policy-makers, through a crowdsourcing process that experts believe could become part of the EU participatory toolbox.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday (29 March) urged unity among democracies in the face of Russia and China as he committed nearly $700 million to halt global democratic backsliding and forged an alliance against surveillance technology.

Two rival alliances of EU countries held final-hour talks in Brussels on Tuesday (28 March), ahead of negotiations on whether to recognise nuclear power under the EU’s renewable energy goals.

The legal basis of the European Media Freedom Act (MFA) has been upheld by the influential EU Council legal service, weakening a push by some to unpack chunks of the regulation into a directive.

As 2023 is the European year of skills, one question inevitably springs to mind: Is the healthcare sector ready to upskill and unlock the advancements in digital technologies?

Ukraine struck a railway depot and knocked out power in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, deep behind the front line, on Wednesday (29 March) amid growing talk from Kyiv of a counterassault against Russian forces worn out by a failed winter offensive.

While the cocaine market continues to grow around the world, a new report by the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT) found that consumption has been steadily increasing across Europe and especially in France.

Look out for…

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers speech on EU-China relations to Mercator Institute for China Studies and European Policy Centre.
  • Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans delivers keynote speech at 8th Clean Energy Summit in Brussels.
  • Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager participates in EU-US Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue.
  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski attends “European event on quality and origin products”, organised by Association of European Regions for Products of Origin (AREPO), Brussels.

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