Monday 9 December 2019

Sarkozy lays into 'weak' Hollande on labour unrest

Nicolas Sarkozy said the government “had everything wrong from the start” in its handling of the crisis, which has spread chaos across France (Getty Images)
Nicolas Sarkozy said the government “had everything wrong from the start” in its handling of the crisis, which has spread chaos across France (Getty Images)

James Rothwell

An open-ended rail strike is under way in France just nine days before the country hosts the Euro 2016 football tournament.

Only 60pc of high-speed trains and between a third and a half of other services are expected to run, according to the state rail company, SNCF.

Trade unions are protesting against work time changes but the strike comes amid general labour unrest.

The wider protests are over a bill to shake up the labour market.

The bill comes before the Senate this month, having passed through the lower house without a vote.

France's Socialist President François Hollande insists it will not be withdrawn despite months of unrest which erupted into street clashes between protesters and police at marches last week.

Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, launched a scathing attack on Hollande's left-wing government, accusing it of "weakness, cowardice and a total loss of authority" in the face of the mass protests and strikes over its controversial labour reforms.

Mr Sarkozy said the government "had everything wrong from the start" in its handling of the crisis, which has spread chaos across France.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have already run rampant on the streets of Paris, Bordeaux and Nantes, often leading to violent clashes with police.

Strikes over the labour reforms have also forced the country to dip into its emergency fuel reserves after oil workers set up blockades at refineries and depots.

Mr Sarkozy said the government had tried to "cut out debate" on the reforms, which opponents say would effectively scrap France's 35-hour working week, the shortest in Europe. "If you don't accept the debate of ideas in parliament, then it moves to the streets," he said.

"What we see today is a shambles...The bill is far too weak to solve the problems, but stinging enough to arouse the passions of the left. The government has proven its weakness faced with the protests. Weakness, cowardice, a total loss of authority: this is the spectacle we are witnessing."

Mr Sarkozy added that the government's handling of the situation could soon lead to "anarchy" on the streets of France. He said the only solution to the crisis was a tough crackdown on the protesters themselves, with fines for vandalism and jail sentences for anyone who dares to assault police officers.

However, Mr Hollande's government insists the labour reforms will make it easier to hire people and allow businesses to set their own working conditions, which it says will help resolve the country's spiralling unemployment crisis.

Meanwhile, the River Seine has overflowed embankments in Paris as floods hit or threatened cities and towns around the country.

Paris City Hall closed roads along the shore of the Seine from the Left Bank in the east to across to the Eiffel Tower neighbourhood in the west as the water level rose 4.3 metres higher than usual.

City authorities were warning residents and visitors to be vigilant yesterday around the river banks, and said high river levels are expected to last through to the weekend.

Unusually heavy rain in recent days across France has caused exceptional delays at the French Open and forced the evacuation of two prisons and left tourists soaking at sights around Paris.

Emergency workers have carried out more than 8,000 rescue operations from the Belgian border south to Burgundy over the past two days, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. No casualties have been reported.

The rising waters wreaked havoc on Tuesday as the A10 motorway, which links Paris and the south west, was flooded and has to be closed at St-Arnoult-en-Yvelines.

Around 650 vehicles were left blocked by the rising waters with around 200 motorists having to be transported in army trucks to the city of Orleans. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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