The year is not starting well for French President Emmanuel Macron, who has had to deal with an accumulation of protests since the first days of January 2023. Strikes and demonstrations resumed immediately after Christmas and are likely to continue at a steady pace in the coming weeks.
The social climate in France has for several weeks been deeply affected by the rise in energy prices, which is weighing heavily on small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular on the highly symbolic trade of bakers. For the moment, the government’s attempts to respond to the discontent have not had the desired effect.
The strike by independent doctors broke out at Christmas time while the country faced a triple epidemic wave—COVID-19, seasonal flu, and bronchiolitis. On Thursday, January 5th, doctors gathered in the streets of Paris to demand an increase in the fee for consultations and their coverage by social security. The minister of health promised a raise, but not to the level demanded by the strikers, who are calling for an increase from 25 to 50 euros per consultation. The mobilisation of doctors in private practice is extremely rare in France and shows the high degree of degradation of the health system—like in the British NHS, which is also in turmoil.
On Saturday, January 7th, the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrations resumed in the capital and throughout France, but without reaching the level of mobilisation the movement displayed at its height in 2019—a few thousand people at most. The demonstrators brandished their slogans against pension reform, inflation, and the cost of energy. Since January 1st, the aid provided by the state directly at the pump at service stations has ended, and it is not uncommon to see a litre of petrol above the symbolic €2 mark. The detailed presentation of the pension reform project on Tuesday, January 10th, should, according to the main organisers of the movement, motivate a relaunch of protests.
The details of the pension reform have changed slightly in recent weeks. The retirement age, currently set at 62, would be pushed back to 64 years instead of the 65 initially desired by the government—a slight reversal that proves the government has recognised the explosive nature of the issue in public opinion.
The director general of the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail, the main far-left union) Philippe Martinez, said on France Info that
[T]his reform project comes at a time when there is a very strong discontent around purchasing power and wages … It is the last straw on a subject that will affect everyone.
A demonstration against the pension reform is scheduled for January 21st at the call of leftist party La France Insoumise. The RATP, the Parisian transport company, has also announced it will also go on strike on Friday, January 13th—this time for wage issues.
The government awaits another deadline with some anxiety: a demonstration of craftsmen, launched at the call of the bakers to be held in Paris on Monday, January 23rd. The government has tried to negotiate with energy suppliers on their behalf, to spread out the payment of bills, or secure easier termination of unfair contracts. It has also promised, as it did at the height of the pandemic, to defer taxes or social security contributions. But these results are not considered sufficient by professions that are currently in great distress and whose debts are accumulating without any hope of improvement.
On this subject, the Rassemblement National published a “Letter to French bakers,” forcing the government to multiply public interventions and meetings on the subject, in particular with the electricity and gas suppliers. The Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne region, headed by the Republican Laurent Wauquiez, announced that it would raise public funds to help the bakers—a way of denouncing the government’s action, which was deemed insufficient.