Morning Brief

France’s Strike Could Last for Days

As French public sector workers walk out, what happens next depends on who gives in first: the unions or the government.

People take part in a demonstration against pension overhauls in Paris on Dec. 5, 2019 as part of a nationwide strike.
People take part in a demonstration against pension overhauls in Paris on Dec. 5, 2019 as part of a nationwide strike. ZAKARIA ABDELKAFI/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France’s public sector strike is set to continue at least through Monday, youth climate activists hold a Friday march alongside the U.N. COP25 conference in Madrid, and there is little hope for compromise at a Vienna meeting between the parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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France’s Strike Enters Second Day

The public sector strikes that paralyzed France on Thursday continue today, with rail workers, bus drivers, teachers, hospital staff, and students walking out in protest of proposed reforms to the country’s generous pension system. On Thursday, more than 800,000 people across the country took to the streets—one of the biggest strikes in France in decades. Schools were shut, flights canceled, and transit systems disrupted.

In Paris, labor union marchers were joined by yellow vest protesters, who posed a significant challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda with anti-government demonstrations last year. (Thursday’s march was larger than any yellow vest protest, as the Guardian notes.) Away from the main march, some masked protesters vandalized shopfronts and clashed with riot police, who responded with tear gas.

What are people protesting? Those on strike are pushing Macron to back down on planned reforms to the pension system—changes that were part of his 2017 campaign platform. He is seeking to unify the system, which currently has specific rules for some occupations, such as railway workers. The government says change is necessary so that the system can support an aging population. Unions say the reform would drive up the retirement age or decrease pensions.

What’s next? The outcome depends on who gives in first: the labor unions or the government. So far, the crowds have not matched those in 1995—the last time the government tried to reform the pension system, the Washington Post reports. If the strikes drag on, the unions could lose public support as people are inconvenienced. But technology means there are ways around the disruptions: Many French workers simply telecommuted on Thursday.

What We’re Following Today

Youth climate strikers march in Madrid. Young climate activists, including the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are marching today in Madrid, where delegates from around the world are meeting for the U.N. COP25 climate conference to finalize some details of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. A parallel protest will be held in Santiago, Chile, which was originally set to host the meetings. The youth activists have made politicians nervous, particularly in Europe, as Paul Hockenos wrote for FP in April. Thunberg, who will speak at the march, arrived in Madrid on Tuesday. “I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids,” she said.

Dim prospects for compromise at nuclear deal meeting. The remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal—Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—meet with Iranian representatives today in Vienna. They are still trying to save the agreement, despite continued breaches by Iran as it faces harsh U.S. sanctions that have wreaked havoc on its economy. Iran has already enriched more uranium than it is allowed under the deal, and the European powers in particular are running out of patience. “I think the window for a negotiation and to save the deal is barely open,” one diplomat told Reuters.

U.S. House to start drafting articles of impeachment. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she had asked committee chairs to go ahead with articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over his dealings with Ukraine. “The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit,” she said. The Judiciary Committee is expected to debate and vote on the articles next week. On that timeline, the House could hold a vote on whether to impeach Trump before lawmakers adjourn for the holidays on Dec. 20.

Keep an Eye On

Italy’s outdated citizenship laws. A new generation raised in Italy is pushing for reforms of the country’s citizenship laws, which mainly recognize citizenship through blood ties. The reformists want jus culturae (Latin for “cultural right”)—or citizenship by cultural assimilation,  mainly through the Italian education system, Stefania D’Ignoti reports for FP.

China’s bride trafficking. Earlier this year, Pakistani investigators found that since 2018 hundreds of girls and women in Pakistan were allegedly forced to marry Chinese men. But charged Chinese nationals were later acquitted—likely because Pakistan didn’t want to jeopardize its economic relationship with China, the Associcated Press reports. In October, Daud Khattak wrote for FP on China’s deteriorating image in Pakistan.

Why protesters turn to violence. From Bolivia to Hong Kong, protesters have been slammed by critics for using force—even in the face of violence from government security forces. Usually, those calls come from Western democracies, where the scope of state violence is limited. While nonviolence is ideal, in the face of brutal repression it may be untenable, Kai Thaler argues in FP.

Foreign Policy Recommends

Mount Everest is becoming more log-jammed with climbers each year, adding increased risk to an already dangerous ascent up the world’s tallest mountain. GQ has a compelling longread on the human toll of Mount Everest’s commercialization. When inexperienced climbers push themselves too hard, they put other mountaineers and sherpas in danger. As one Indian climber said: “So many got frostbite, four died this year—clearly there is something wrong.” —Robbie Gramer

Tune In

Later today on FP’s First Person podcast: On Dec. 12, British voters go to the polls in a general election. At stake is whether Britain will leave the European Union. But another issue has become central to the campaign: the accusations that opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. The editor of London’s Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, speaks about the question of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

Odds and Ends

Norway sends a Christmas tree to Britain each year that sits in London’s Trafalgar Square as a sign of thanks for British aid during World War II. But this year, Londoners are criticizing the fir tree’s sparse appearance. “It looks like a Christmas tree losing hair,” one told the New York Times. Rome received a similar tree from Norway in 2017, with the Italians naming it Spelacchio, or “Mangy.”

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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