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Is France’s Political Crisis Just Beginning?

Written by Uri Friedman.
Read the original article on The Atlantic.

Image credit: The Atlantic

Emmanuel Macron, the next president of France, campaigned on a slogan of “Together, France!” And why not? He is a sunny centrist who attracted votes from the left and the right to decisively defeat the far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen on Sunday. The center seems not only to have held, but to have swelled.

But Macron’s victory could further fracture French politics rather than bridge the country’s political divisions, illustrating a challenge confronting many democracies at the moment, especially in Europe: A disenchanted public has blown up the political establishment, but it’s difficult to then fashion a well-functioning government out of the pieces. This can produce more disillusionment with politics, not less.

For signs of trouble ahead, consider the fact that a full quarter of the French electorate didn’t cast a ballot in this weekend’s runoff presidential election—one of the highest abstention rates in the history of France’s Fifth Republic, which was established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958. French voters are so disillusioned with their political leaders that, for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, the runoff didn’t feature a representative from the main parties of the left and right. Whether that’s a response to the government’s failure to boost a stagnant economy, secure the nation from ISIS-inspired terrorism, or assimilate immigrants and address the downsides of globalization, the French consistentlyexpress low levels of trust in government. In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, a survey found that French voters are more polarized than the citizens of other European countries, with 20 percent describing themselves as politically extreme (compared with 7 percent in the EU as a whole) and 36 percent identifying as centrist (compared with 62 percent in the EU). So much for togetherness.

This protest against politics-as-usual is what catapulted Macron, a former government official who has never held elected office, into the Elysee Palace. He doesn’t belong to a party and only founded his “On the Move” movement a year ago. But the political independence that proved an asset during the presidential campaign could become a liability during parliamentary elections in June.

Macron has promised to field On the Move candidates in every French electoral district, and polls suggest the movement could win more seats in France’s National Assembly than any other party—maybe even enough to achieve a majority in the 577-seat lower house, which would be astonishing for an organization that has only just burst onto the political scene.

If, however, Macron falls short of a majority, he will need to form a governing coalition with other parties. And if another party wins a majority, he will need to deal with that rival party, in a scenario the French refer to rather euphemistically as “cohabitation.”

In France, presidents have for the last several decades generally been drawn from the major center-left or center-right party. Their victory in presidential elections has typically paved the way for their party to win a majority in parliament, allowing the president to appoint a prime minister from his party who will run the government according to the president’s wishes. This hasn’t always occurred; the Fifth Republic has experienced cohabitation three times. But the system has been running smoothly for a while: France hasn’t endured divided government since a constitutional amendment in the early 2000s that made both presidential and parliamentary terms five years, and scheduled parliamentary elections shortly after presidential elections to reduce the likelihood of cohabitation.

“During cohabitation periods, the presidency diminished in stature, and the premier tended to exercise the main executive policymaking authority,” writes John Carey, a comparative-politics professor at Dartmouth College. “For example, in the late 1980s, [Jacques] Chirac as premier engineered a major tax cut and privatized state-owned enterprises while the Socialist [President Francois] Mitterand could only watch. But when Chirac was president, Socialist Party Premier [Lionel] Jospin pushed through legislation to shorten the workweek from 39 hours to 35.”

Now, however, France’s traditional party system has imploded—and the risks of cohabitation and political dysfunction have returned. If an opposition party ends up controlling the National Assembly, Macron will likely be blocked from carrying out his ambitious policy agenda, which includes cutting government spending and giving employers more flexibility to hire, fire, and negotiate with employees. If he has to cobble together a coalition of diverse factions, he will have to painstakingly build support for each vote on each piece of legislation. As Francois Fillon, the Republican candidate who lost in the first round of the presidential election, memorably put it, Macron might have to again and again “cook up parliamentary dishes of impotence and compromises”—the very worst kind of French cuisine.

In these scenarios, the election of Macron would have the opposite effect of what his supporters intend: A man elected to finally get things done would struggle to get things done; a man elected to break with the traditional parties would have to work closely with them. Desires for political change and disillusionment with government might only grow.

This vicious circle is playing out across Europe, where frustration with establishment politics is hollowing out center-right and center-left parties, splintering the political landscape into an array of small- and medium-sized parties competing for influence. “The more fragmentation occurs, the more difficult it’s going to be [for fragile, unstable coalition governments] to pass any type of coherent policy program,” the political scientist Robin Best told me after the Dutch election. “And voters are probably going to end up being even more dissatisfied” and inclined toward protest votes and politicians on the political extremes.

If, on the other hand, On the Move secures a parliamentary majority, or if Republican and Socialist lawmakers decide to be uncommonly cooperative, Macron’s presidency could go swimmingly. As the historian Aline-Florence Manent has pointed out, De Gaulle designed the Fifth Republic so that it wouldn’t be dependent on political parties, which he viewed as sources of gridlock and instability. The founder of modern France “designed the Fifth Republic as a hybrid regime, combining the institutions of a parliamentary system with a powerful presidential office so that a crisis in the party system might not necessarily provoke a crisis of government,” Manent notes.

Macron’s presidency will “be a true test of the Fifth Republic as De Gaulle envisioned it,” she added. “So far, this has never really been tested, because the system developed into a de facto two party system.”

“It may have taken 60 years,” Manent writes, “but De Gaulle’s vision of the Fifth Republic could well be coming to a point of crisis.”

NATO examines itself, again.

Stephen Sestanovich


The North Atlantic alliance has over the years experienced identity crises of two different kinds. The first stems from worry that the organization has outlived its usefulness. This form of self-doubt appeared most recently at NATO’s Lisbon summit in 2010, and again at its Chicago meeting in 2012. With memories of the Cold War receding and the “reset” with Russia still going strong (then-President Dmitri Medvedev actually came to Lisbon), the 2010 communiqué found Europe stable, successful, and at peace. Who needed an alliance?

A second kind of identity crisis is all about efficacy. It takes hold when threats are real, but NATO seems too diverse, too divided, and too disorganized to achieve its goals. Anxiety of this type was in evidence at the Wales summit of 2014. Russia had seized Crimea and sent military personnel to support separatism in eastern Ukraine, so no one doubted that NATO was necessary. The only question was whether it could fashion an effective response.

At the upcoming Warsaw summit, which begins on July 8, some will say the alliance has put identity crises behind it. The meeting is a chance for NATO leaders to review the pledges made at Wales and to endorse new plans for implementing them. Given the alliance’s record of the last two years, members have every reason to pat themselves on the back.

“Britain’s vote to leave the European Union—certain to be the main topic of corridor conversation in Warsaw—will only complicate Western decision-making.”

Yet amid justified self-congratulation, doubts and divisions will surface at this summit. Some may even detect a third type of identity crisis, one that makes NATO seem, more than anything else, irrelevant to today’s big concerns.  The alliance, after all, has been on the sidelines of efforts to cope with refugees or to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. NATO’s mission in Afghanistan remains troubled (and to many, futile). Britain’s vote to leave the European Union—certain to be the main topic of corridor conversation in Warsaw—will only complicate Western decision-making.

Concerns about relevance will be unavoidable when the leaders of the alliance gather, but these should not derail summit participants from highly relevant problems that they need to, and can, address.  NATO is not fully united in responding to the core European security concerns that brought it into being almost seventy years ago. The alliance needs better solutions to the problem of burden-sharing, and a more sustainable strategy for managing tensions with Russia.

A Record of Achievement

The debate on these issues at Warsaw will reflect the very real successes of the past two years. At their 2014 meeting, alliance leaders sought to reassure member states that NATO security guarantees meant something. To be able to protect threatened allies, especially those in Eastern Europe, in a crisis, the summit adopted a Readiness Action Plan. Its key measures were to triple the size of the NATO Response Force (NRF) to forty thousand troops and to create a “spearhead” unit within the NRF capable of deploying five thousand troops anywhere within the alliance in two to three days. Across NATO, rebuilding strength was the new imperative. The Pentagon’s European Command (EUCOM), which had sent home the last of its heavy-armored vehicles in 2013, began bringing them back in 2015.

Since the Wales summit, NATO efforts to enhance deterrence have focused on creating a credible forward presence in “frontline” states. (As Alexander Vershbow, the former U.S. diplomat who serves as deputy secretary-general of the alliance, puts it, it’s not enough to be able to reinforce. “We need to be there,” he says.) The Warsaw summit is expected to give final approval to the rotational deployment of four multi-national battalions to Poland and the Baltic states. Eight new regional headquarters have also been created in NATO’s east, to oversee the activities of the new forces and to prepare for the deployment of larger ones in an emergency.

Larger, more visible exercises from the Baltic to the Black Seas have been a further part of implementing the Readiness Action Plan. Last year, NATO held a total of three hundred separate exercises. Anakonda-16 in Poland brought together forces from twenty-three nations (including five non-NATO allies, Ukraine among them) in June 2016.  With thirty-one thousand participants, it was the largest-ever alliance exercise in Eastern Europe.

Burden Sharing

All these efforts will be justly hailed at the Warsaw summit. Even so, the meeting will face a nagging question: Is Europe pulling its weight? U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration wants to quadruple funding for the U.S. European Reassurance Initiative, from $800 million to $3.4 billion in 2017. Yet for many Americans—foreign-policymakers included—the “reassurance” project seems increasingly one-sided. The president has called NATO allies “free riders,” and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said the alliance may become “obsolete.” In U.S. public commentary on NATO—and on the Warsaw summit—burden-sharing is once more a contentious topic.

Annoyance with Europe is easy to understand. In 2015, the median level of defense spending by non-U.S. NATO members was 1.18 percent of GDP, compared to 3.62 percent for the United States. To address this imbalance, the Wales summit set 2 percent of GDP as a target level for the military budgets of member-states. (In 2014 only four of them met this goal.) The leaders of the alliance further agreed at Wales that at least 20 percent of defense budgets should be dedicated to new equipment, so that increased spending actually increases capability. (In 2015, twenty members of the alliance failed to meet this standard.)

NATO is forced to focus on this issue now because European members of the alliance for years let economic growth outpace their contributions to the common defense. The end of the Cold War made it easy—and seemingly safe—to ignore military needs.  The global economic crisis of 2008, and sluggish growth thereafter, put further pressure on budgets. In France defense spending dropped more than 4 percent between 2010 and 2015; in Germany, more than 5 percent; in Britain, more than 6 percent; in Italy, by more than a third.  (Although Poland and the three Baltic states increased their budgets by an average of 40 percent in this period, they were lonely exceptions.)

The Ukraine crisis of 2014 began to reverse this trend, but the turnaround has been slow.  Alliance-wide, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, has estimated, the increase in spending will be only 1.5 percent. The impact of past cuts, particularly in troop numbers, remains severe. Since the Cold War, Germany has cut back its army by half. Others have gone further: the ground forces of European NATO as a whole are down 60 percent from the 1990s. No surprise, then, that some of the most important policy reversals have involved increased manpower. Poland now plans to double its army; Germany recently said it would add 11,400 military and civilian personnel.

The challenge for NATO leaders in Warsaw is to sustain pressure for more meaningful contributions, while recognizing the domestic realities of each member state. The alliance has struggled with this problem since its founding, but the imbalance has rarely been quite as stark as it is now. New benchmarks and new mechanisms urgently need discussion. (One recent suggestion is that NATO member parliaments formally endorse the 2 percent pledge.) To head off defeatism and back-biting, the alliance needs credible evidence that members accept the responsibilities of collective defense.)

Managing Tension

Whenever NATO rearms, it has to expect pushback from Moscow. Russia can test the alliance’s commitment to firmer new policies in various ways—through military countermeasures of its own, loud warnings that NATO is pushing Europe toward war, and offers and inducements that try to peel off the more nervous (or cynical) Western governments.

In the past two years, such efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates have had meager results. Efforts to divide the West have so far produced no give on sanctions and no readiness to let Moscow interpret the Minsk 2 agreement—the plan that is supposed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine—by its own lights. Despite Europe’s surprising firmness on Ukraine, a new phase of Russian diplomacy is now at hand, and its aim is to slow down or reverse the alliance’s new military initiatives.

Russian officials regularly denounce Western exercises as excessive and provocative. “No threats in this part of the world whatsoever” justify what NATO is doing, according to foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. (This, even though many recent Russian exercises have been three times as big.) Putin has charged that NATO missile defense facilities in Romania and Poland threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent. (To this oft-made claim, he recently added a wild scenario in which the U.S. secretly replaces defensive interceptors with offensive cruise missiles. “I know how this is done,” he insisted.) Putin has also decried NATO’s “aggressive rhetoric and aggressive actions,” while declaring Russia “ready for dialogue.”

NATO governments know, of course, that it is Russia that increased its defense spending 100 percent over the past decade; that pulled out of the Europe-wide treaty on conventional forces (possibly violating the treaty on intermediate range missiles as well); that recently announced a three division build-up of forces on its western border; that has included simulated nuclear weapons use against NATO in its exercises; and that used force against Ukraine.

All the same, Moscow’s strategic combination of sharp elbows and appeals to reason seems to have made headway in some parts of Europe. The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has warned of a renewed, Cold War-style division of Europe, proposed to invite Russia to rejoin the G8, and chided other Western governments for “warmongering.” The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, traveled to St. Petersburg in mid-June to meet with Putin and underscore Europe’s hope “to build bridges.”  At the same meeting the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, underscored his country’s interest in reviving trade.

Though criticized by many, such statements and meetings do not necessarily signal an unraveling of Western policy. As Ronald Reagan himself demonstrated, negotiations and ambitious arms control proposals can help legitimize a tough policy, showing doubters that every effort is being made to find alternatives to confrontation. NATO has made recent use of the same principle, holding the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in two years—and expressing regret afterward that the discussion showed how far apart the two sides remained. (An effort to convene a second meeting before the Warsaw summit apparently failed; it may be held later in July.) Meetings alone, however, have less value than a positive agenda—a set of initiatives that describe what the alliance wants Russia to do.  In the Reagan era, the so-called “zero option,” which required the dismantling of Soviet missiles aimed at Europe, played such a role. Other than the demand to get out of Ukraine, the West has no such initiatives on the table today.

Efforts to open separate channels to Russia do not by themselves show that policy is unraveling, but they do show the potential for it. At the Warsaw summit and after, one of NATO’s key challenges will be to make sure that diplomatic outreach to Moscow sustains support for alliance initiatives instead of undermining it. Well-managed dialogue should increase pressure on Russian to change course.

Back to Basics

“At the Warsaw summit and after, one of NATO’s key challenges will be to make sure that diplomatic outreach to Moscow sustains support for alliance initiatives instead of undermining it.”

NATO has reinvigorated itself in the past two years, and the Warsaw summit will celebrate this success. The alliance has bolstered the security of its own members and of Europe as a whole. But, in doing so, it has also re-discovered many of the problems that it faced in the past. In the ups and downs of the Cold War, NATO was rarely free of discord over how to share the burdens of collective defense. And it was rarely free of debate about how to keep tensions with Moscow from boiling over. These are the challenges the alliance will face at the Warsaw summit, and in all likelihood for years to come. For NATO, getting back to basics means coming to grips with its own internal divisions and with a tough, resourceful adversary.

Just the Start of Brexit’s economic disaster

Phillipe Legrain

Phillipe Legrain


A few weeks before Britons voted on whether to remain part of the European Union, Michael Gove, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign, was asked why he should be trusted over the overwhelming number of economists and international authorities who opposed Brexit. “People in this country have had enough of experts,” he replied.

Experts are, of course, known to make mistakes. But in this case, the people who voted for Brexit will pay a big price for ignoring economic expertise. The harmful effects of this vote are both immediate and lasting.

Britons are already worse off. The pound has — so far — plunged by nearly 9 percent against the dollar, slashing the value of British assets, with higher import prices likely to follow. The stock market has also taken a hit. The prices of property, most British people’s main asset, are almost certain to fall, too. While Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has already pledged 250 billion pounds (about $345 billion) to support the financial system and has said he could offer more if necessary, central bankers cannot protect against an enduring economic shock.

Rarely have businesses faced such uncertainty. Britain’s economy had already slowed as they put investment decisions on hold ahead of the referendum. Now, a country renowned for its political and legal stability is descending into chaos. The future prime minister is unknown, as is the direction his or her policies will take. The favorite to replace David Cameron, Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London who opportunistically campaigned for Brexit, styles himself as pro-market and pro-globalization, but in the lead-up to the vote he said he supports curbs on European Union migration, tariffs on Chinese steel and higher public spending. The future terms on which Britain will trade with both the European Union and all the countries with which it has negotiated trade deals on Britain’s behalf are uncertain. Domestic regulations on everything from finance to environmental protection may change.

All that uncertainty is amplified by the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence, which may this time be won. In Northern Ireland, the political party Sinn Fein has already called for a referendum on a united Ireland.

Faced with such uncertainty, businesses are likely to continue to put investments on hold. Consumers may pull back, too. The resulting downturn will cause the government’s budget deficit, already large, to swell. The pound’s depreciation, which might have been expected to boost exports, is unlikely to do much to cushion the blow. Its huge decline in 2008 failed to boost exports and Brexit will dent them.

This unpredictable situation will not be brief. Once triggered, the formal process of leaving the European Union is supposed to take two years. But extricating the union’s second-biggest economy from 43 years of European Union legislation is a daunting task.

Negotiating a new trade relationship with the European Union is equally tricky. Britain seems certain to lose access to the single market — with which it does nearly half its trade — because this is conditional on accepting the free movement of people and contributing to the European Union’s budget. (These were key issues for pro-Brexit voters.) That will jeopardize the foreign investment and good jobs predicated on single-market membership. Britain-based financial institutions will lose their rights to operate freely across the European Union.

Brexit’s supporters are deluded when they argue that Britain could cherry pick what it likes about the European Union and discard the rest. Since exports to the European Union (13 percent of G.D.P. in 2014) matter much more to Britain than exports to Britain (3 percent of G.D.P. in 2014) do to the European Union, the European Union will call the shots. Other governments have every incentive to be tough, both to steal a competitive advantage and to deter others from following Britain out the door.

A fallback position is trading with Europe on the basis of World Trade Organization rules, as the United States does. But that entails tariffs on good exports — up to 10 percent on car exports, for example, most of which go to the European Union — as well as non-tariff barriers that gum up trade. It offers little access to Europe’s markets in services, in which Britain specializes. Less open markets will stunt competition, crimping productivity growth and living standards.

Brexit’s supporters claim that a deregulated Britain that trades with the rest of the world would prosper once unshackled from Brussels’s overregulation and protectionism. But Britain has the least regulated labor markets in the European Union and the second-least regulated product markets, so any potential benefits from deregulation are likely to be meager. Moreover, Britain is likely to end up with worse access to markets in the rest of the world. While it won’t be hamstrung by protectionist interests in the European Union, its relatively smaller economy, largely open markets and desperation for new deals will weaken its clout in trade negotiations.

The young, the higher educated and city dwellers, the most dynamic members of Britain’s economy, voted to Remain. They were outvoted by the old, the less educated and non-urban English, who often rely on taxpayer largess. With economic opportunities stunted, everyone will suffer for Leave voters wrongly blaming hard-working, taxpaying European migrants for everything they dislike about modern Britain and wrongly trusting economic charlatans like Mr. Gove.

France Is on Strike But the Real Problem Is Even Worse: Q&A

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Gregory Viscusi
May 30, 2016
[Original Article]

French President Francois Hollande is facing the most serious public unrest since he came to office four years ago. Most of the country’s refineries have been on strike for a week. Protesters have blockaded refineries and fuel depots, causing shortages and long lines at gasoline stations. Air traffic controllers and electrical workers have joined in. And the turmoil has exacerbated a labor dispute already underway at the national railroad.

While the French have stoically gone on with their lives, some protests have turned violent: a police car was torched on the streets of Paris May 18. This week, railroad workers, Paris transport employees and air-traffic controllers plan to strike, and some unions are threatening to disrupt the 24-nation Euro 2016 soccer tournament that begins June 10.

Aren’t workers in France always on strike? What’s different?

The ostensible cause of these disruptions, the most extensive since 2010, is a law loosening up some of the country’s rigid labor rules. The standoff has undermined Hollande, already the most unpopular president in French history, less than a year before the next presidential election. A Socialist, he came to office in 2012 with the support of unions, many of whose members now feel betrayed by his attempts to loosen labor protection.

What do you mean, labor protection?

Labor law in France is governed by the “Code du Travail,” an almost 4,000-page tome that covers everything from bathroom breaks to the size of windows in office. Layoffs can take years and require expensive payouts. The 35-hour work week, introduced in 2000 by a previous Socialist government, has further complicated the rules. France’s unemployment rate has hovered at about 10 percent for three years, and organizations from the International Monetary Fund to the European Commission have urged a loosening of the rules. Germany did so in the mid-2000s and unemployment there is now 4.5 percent. Even one-time laggards such as Spain and Italy are now outperforming France on job creation after liberalizing their labor markets.

So what’s the government doing about it ?

Parties from the left and the right, when they’ve governed the country, have acknowledged that France’s labor laws are too rigid while shying away from major changes. Campaigning in 2012, Hollande ran to the left, saying “finance is my enemy” and as president setting a 75 percent tax on high incomes. Then, after appointing Manuel Valls as prime minister in 2014, his government cut payroll and income taxes and pushed for looser labor regulations. Valls presented the so-called El Khomri law — named after Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri — last February.

Hasn’t the government watered down the bill?

Yes, after protests in March. For instance, a proposed limit on severance pay was cut. That’s why some major unions support the legislation in its current form (more on that later). One controversial element remains: a provision that would allow companies to ignore sector labor agreements (say, an accord that applies to all auto workers). Instead, they could negotiate contracts directly with their own employees. In addition, the bill would lower the minimum extra pay workers receive for working overtime.

While the ability to negotiate deals at the company level was a key part of the German labor reforms of the early 2000s, many employees in France could face lower earnings if the bill becomes law.

I can see how unions wouldn’t like that

Indeed, the CGT union, by some measures France’s largest and the leader of the protests, wants the bill scrapped entirely. It’s backed by Force Ouvriere, the third-largest.

Not all are opposed. The CFDT, France’s largest union by membership (but second to the CGT in elected company representatives), supports the bill in its current form. So does the CFE-CGC, which mostly represents white-collar workers.

It’s not just about the provisions of the law. Valls and his economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, have angered some segments of public opinion, and even some of their party’s own members, with their handling of the bill. The measure was presented earlier this year without any negotiations with unions, and with little explanation. Then when faced with a potentially rowdy parliamentary debate, the premier pushed it through by decree. The measure will be debated in the Senate starting June 13, and Valls has said repeatedly that he won’t consider withdrawing the law.

Don’t governments always give in to France’s unions?

Less and less. And that’s one reason the CGT is digging in its heels. A similar wave of strikes and gas shortages in 2010 failed to stop the government from raising the retirement age by two years. And strikes in 2014 failed to stop a reorganization of the national railroad. “The CGT wants to mark out its territory — they need to show their followers they can be winners,” said Claude Didry, a researcher at Ecole Normale Superieure of Cachan near Paris who just published a book called “The Institution of Work: a History of Labor Law.”

Even though they still play a key role in negotiating labor contracts in France, unions have never been weaker. Only about eight percent of French workers belong to one, compared with 11 percent in the U.S. and 18 percent in Germany, according to the OECD. The CGT, which grew out of the French Communist Party, had 4 million members in 1948 and has 700,000 now.

How does the French public feel?

France has a long tradition of supporting, or at least tolerating, public protests. According to a May 29 Ifop poll for Journal du Dimanche, 46 percent of respondents want the law withdrawn, 40 percent want it modified and only 13 percent want it to pass in its current form. In a poll for Le Parisien newspaper by Odoxa, 61 percent of those answering said the government was responsible for the escalating nature of the strikes, while 37 percent said it was “the irresponsibility of radical unions.” Two-thirds said the government had handled the situation badly.

How’s the French economy coping?

The strikes come just as output is showing some signs of life — jobless claims have fallen for two consecutive months to their lowest in more than a year — and Valls has warned the protests could derail the recovery. Business organizations issued a joint statement last week saying the fuel shortages were harming growth. An association that represents small- and medium-sized companies last week said 58 percent of its members were having trouble making deliveries and 47 percent had difficulty getting supplied.

Still, economists say the impact of the strike on growth will probably be minimal. Larger businesses have the capacity to mute their effect, and lost output can be made up later. Police last week broke up blockades at fuel depots and the government dipped intostrategic reserves, improving supply at gas stations. The general strike of 1995, which lasted about a month and was much more widely supported than the current action, wiped about 0.05 percentage point off of annual growth that year.

So how will all this end? What does it mean for France?

Hollande has supported his prime minister, saying that one union can’t make the law. Valls did say in interviews over the weekend that he was open to “modifications” and “improvements,” as long as companies remained able to negotiate their own contracts. Valls “will soften the labor bill to prevent strikes from spreading to other unions” but “these modifications are unlikely to alter the ‘philosophy’ of this already heavily diluted bill,” Eurasia Group said in a note to clients. The Journal du Dimanche newspaper said the government might make concessions on unrelated labor disputes, such as at the national railroads, to undermine union opposition to the labor law.

One factor working in the government’s favor: French strikes aren’t as fearsome as they once were. Thanks to declining union membership and a 2007 law requiring minimum service for public transport, recent work stoppages have caused nuisances for commuters without bringing transport to a standstill.

Europe is a moral wasteland: Countless refugees continue to die while the West turns a blind eye

SUNDAY, APR 24, 2016 03:00 PM EDT
By: 


Original article can be found here:

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As many as 500 migrants died just last week, yet the world’s powers pretend this calamity still isn’t their problem

After days of rumored disaster, United Nations officials now estimate that as many as 500 migrants died earlier this month in the Mediterranean after their ship capsized en route from Libya to Italy. Many appear to be Somalis.

“The flow consists almost exclusively of people from sub-Saharan Africa,” The Guardian reports. “Syrians have yet to reach Libya following the closure of the Greek route, but migration specialists expect them to try again from Libya in increasing numbers later in the year.”

The tragedy won’t make headlines for long, and fresh ones are sure to follow. Sub-Saharan Africans, who may represent the bulk of last week’s mass drowning, never won much sympathy to begin with. Now Europe, under siege from an insurgent far right, is trying to slam the door shut on Syrians as well: Since recent attacks in France, Belgium, and San Bernardino, tenuous solidarity for ISIS victims has been replaced by a conviction that refugees are in fact ISIS.

Never mind that attacks have mostly been carried out by European-born men. Rather than take a look in a mirror, France has imposed a draconian and alienating state of emergency, and Europe has cut a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, exchanging cash and political legitimacy in return for accepting refugees forcefully returned from Greece in contravention of international and European law.

Arrivals on Greek shores have plummeted since the accord’s enactment. But both desperation and aspiration find a way, and the lack of a regular process for migrants and refugees only encourages people to take irregular and dangerous routes. And so people die.

“You patrol the seas better, then land routes are exploited,” Nigar Göksel, a Turkey analyst at International Crisis Group, told Frontline. “Or the price of smuggling goes up, or different ways of creating fake documents are discovered. Smugglers often win out in these circumstances.”

Or, they might die in Syria.

Turkey, according to Human Rights Watch, has all but closed its border with Syriasince March 2015, even as refugees stuck inside the country flee camps threatened by ISIS and the Assad regime. Recently, Turkish border police allegedly shot at refugees fleeing ISIS advances. According to an Amnesty International report, investigations on “Turkey’s southern border provinces suggests that Turkish authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children to Syria on a near-daily basis since mid-January.”

Disturbingly, Turkey’s adherence to international refugee law is explicitly limited to those fleeing European conflicts.

“The EU deal is based on the deceptive premise that all returned people are safe in Turkey, when the facts say otherwise,” said Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, in what seems like a significant understatement.

Europe has pledged to accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every one sent back. The accord is purportedly meant to discourage refugees from making a dangerous sea crossing. But perversely, the number of Syrian refugees that Europe accepts under the deal is tied to the number who irregularly cross and are then sent back to Turkey.

What’s worse, this not-so-magnanimous deal does not even extend to other refugees, including, remarkably, Afghans, thousands of whom are already stuck in Turkey with access to neither refugee camps nor legal work. Turkey allegedly deported about 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Kabul “just hours after” the accord with Europe was signed, according to Amnesty International. People from Iraq aren’t covered either. Europe is distinguishing not only between refugees and economic migrants but between those refugees who are deserving and those who are not. And what do these distinctions even mean when it comes to people willing to risk death?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after years of migrants dying at sea, finally became a limited-purpose hero last year, dubbed “compassionate mother” by grateful refugees after resettling many of the more than one million that crossed into Europe. Anti-migrant sentiment and violence cut that solidarity short soon thereafter, and countries including Austria and Macedonia closed their borders. And so Turkey is now the supposed save haven.

Europe’s priority is not saving lives. The Italian Mare Nostrum sea rescue mission, which according to the Italian government saved the lives of roughly 166,000 in 2014, was shut down under heavy criticism from Germany. Europe condemns smugglers, and has even pondered military operations against them. But they ignore the fact that their military and economic policies have for centuries created the condition of their possibility.

* * *

The accord is purportedly about safety but the notion that refugees belong in Turkey and not Europe is simply a racist one: They are mostly Muslims like in Turkey, and not Christians like in Europe. Ironically, it is Turkey’s Muslim population and its terrible human rights record that have long frustrated its desired ascension to the European Union. Now, Europe has proven willing to trade quite a lot to Turkey, where the human rights situation has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, for the sake of ethno-national homogeneity: Last week, after a satirist dared mock Erdogan, Merkel green-lighted a prosecution, under a very illiberal and very old German law, on behalf of the thin-skinned and authoritarian leader.

It’s often said that there’s a migrant crisis in Europe. In reality, the crisis in Europe is mostly a political one. According to the UN Refugee Agency, just “slightly more than 10 percent of those who have fled the conflict [in Syria are] seeking safety in Europe.” Today, there are roughly 4,841,807 registered Syrian refugees worldwide. By April 2014, nearly one in five people in tiny, constantly-destabilized Lebanon were already Syrian refugees.

Merkel’s initial response was laudable. But her brutal response to Europe’s financial crisis had helped lay the groundwork for today’s meanness, rallying the continent’s worst instincts to break Greece’s uprising against austerity. In turn, that austerity further worsened the living conditions of European workers—making them all the more susceptible to right-wing demagogues.

The U.S., of course, has behaved even more horribly, accepting roughly 3,100 total Syrian refugees since 2011, as of a Boston Globe overview published in late March. That included just about 1,200 of the mere 10,000 refugees that President Obama had pledged to settle by this October. The leading Republican presidential candidate, of course, wants to bar Muslims from the country.

There is something profoundly stupid but predictable about countries that invaded Iraq and colonized Africa, that foster a global system that exploits the poor for the benefit of the rich, that supported the overthrow of the Somalia’s government and carved up the Middle East into a despotic jigsaw puzzle now wondering just how the world came to be such a mess. Europe is clinging to a vision of the nation-state that colonialism has always made impossible. The hypocrisy is the same for economic migrants: People migrate from Africa fleeing poverty and war, but yes, also just to seek a better life. Moralizing about whether those people are deserving is beside the point, because a global economy entails a global labor market and migration. The trajectory of capital, like that of violence, boomerangs.

Shutting the doors on refugees and migrants requires a profound lack of the basic human solidarity required by most any existing moral system that I’m aware of. This cruelty, however, is also premised upon the idea that it’s not our problem. The belief that one, and one’s nation, are innocent of whatever crime has sent these people trekking across continents and risking their lives at sea.

The West, however, has been eager to wage wars in the name of human rights. “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” President Obama bragged in 2011 over NATO’s intervention in Libya. “The United States of America is different.”

The humans in whose name these wars have been fought are now being deported back toward war zones. They are dying at sea in enormous numbers. They live or are detained in squalid camps and are abused by security forces.

The European Union was “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

It’s now clear that the moral posturing of the West is fraudulent.

This is of course not to suggest that other places are of better moral quality. Far from it: consider the Thai junta returning Chinese dissidents to China, the Egyptian military dictatorship’s complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the Gulf states’ systematic exploitation of guest workers, or the alleged abuses committed by Mexican agents, on behalf of the United States, against Central Americans fleeing gangster terror. The world is in large part run by mean, venal and greedy people. But the next time the West invokes its moral superiority remember that they have already failed humanity’s most basic test.


Daniel Denvir Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics.
You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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