Tear gas and protests as pension strikes in France impact electricity and fuel supplies

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By Euronews  with Reuters, AFP
A protester with an umbrella kicks away a teargas pellet during a demonstration on the third day of nationwide rallies
A protester with an umbrella kicks away a teargas pellet during a demonstration on the third day of nationwide rallies   -  Copyright  AFP

A national strike against planned pension reforms impacted France's power supply and disrupted petrol deliveries from refineries on Tuesday.

Strikes have been taking place since mid-January as unions protest against the government's plans to make people work longer before retirement. Public transport and schools have also been affected.

Total power supply was reduced by about 4%, or 2.9 gigawatts due to decreased supply at two nuclear reactors and several thermal plants, data from power utility EDF showed.

Nuclear capacity was lowered by 890 megawatts and thermal plants were reduced by 2 gigawatts. No disruption was listed at hydro plants, but the hydraulic power sector of EDF posted a strike notice for Thursday.

On the refining side, the shipping of petrol products from French sites was interrupted by the strike, TotalEnergies said.

The company added that there was no shortage of petrol at fueling stations and supply levels were generally satisfactory.

A spokesman for the hardline CGT union said there was disruption to deliveries at the Donges, Normandy, Feyzin, Oudalle, and Flanders sites.

An initial count showed about 75% of staff were on strike, CGT spokesperson Benjamin Tange said.

At Esso, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, about 75% of the workforce at the Fos site was on strike and blocking deliveries while the Port Jerome site was operating normally, a CGT spokesperson said.

What is the government's proposed plan for pension reform?

Emmanuel Macron's government has proposed to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030, with a new law to enter into force in September 2023.

In order to receive a full pension, the government's proposal says it will be necessary to work for at least 43 years. By age 67, workers who haven't been active that long will still receive a full pension.

Those who started to work earlier will be able to retire earlier, while disabled workers will be able to retire early. Injured workers will also be allowed to retire early, the proposal says.

The current special retirement plans for some public workers will no longer be applicable for new recruits but the new proposal would raise the minimum pension by €100 per month.

This is the second retirement proposal during Macron's presidency. The first project attempted to create a universal points system but faced heavy opposition and protests before being suspended in March 2020 as the government imposed restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without an absolute majority in parliament, the government, led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, would need some right-wing Les Républicains MPs to vote with them in order to pass the law through the lower house of parliament.

Otherwise, they would likely have to resort to a constitutional loophole to pass the law without a vote.

Christophe Ena/AP
Activists demonstrate by the statue representing the Law and asking for retirement at aged60, outside the National Assembly, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023 in Paris.Christophe Ena/AP

Opposition leader calls on Macron to de-escalate the situation

French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Insoumise opposition party, called on Emmanuel Macron to become "reasonable", accusing him of "wanting to start his five-year term with a coup de force" over pension reforms. 

"Unless he has become totally authoritarian, in a democracy, at some point, someone has to be reasonable and it is necessarily him who must become reasonable since it is he who is responsible for having created this conflict from scratch," Mélenchon told reporters on a picket line at the Gare de Lyon in Paris.

Emmanuel Macron "is trying to start his new five-year term with a coup de force by showing that he is the boss," he said, accusing the president of undertaking the pension reform for "totally artificial reasons.

For Mr Mélenchon, this week will be "the big week", with the third day of mobilisation against the pension reform and another day of demonstrations planned by the unions on Saturday.

"It is now that you have a situation that is quite exceptional, since the street mobilisation (...) is combined with the parliamentary battle," said Mr Mélenchon.

The debate on the pension reform bill began on Monday in the National Assembly, where the government does not have an absolute majority.