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Morning Brief

Could France Ditch Its Pension Reform?

France’s unions are pushing ahead with strikes and their third mass protest after a key official resigns.

A commuter walks at Gare de L'Est train station in Paris on Dec. 13 during a public transport strike.
A commuter walks at Gare de L'Est train station in Paris on Dec. 13 during a public transport strike. MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France braces for another round of pension reform protests, the global economy could be stabilizing, and China and Russia propose lifting some U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

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France’s Unions Aren’t Giving In

Today, French labor unions have called on teachers, doctors, and other public sector workers to join the third mass protest against the government’s proposed reform to the pension system after a broad plan was published last week. Transport workers have been on strike for 13 straight days, disrupting rail links nationwide as the holidays approach. The unions have pledged to keep protesting until the government withdraws the reform.

Union activists consider any attempt to raise the retirement age a “red line.” They are particularly angered by the proposal to reduce the pension payout for those who retire at the legal age of 62, encouraging workers to wait until 64 to receive their full pension. Among developed countries, France still has one of the lowest retirement ages. But its pension system is one of the most expensive and, as life expectancies rise, the deficit is growing.

Key resignation. The man charged with executing the pension reform, Jean-Paul Delevoye, resigned on Monday over a conflict of interest: He failed to declare 13 private sector positions he holds, including a volunteer job at an insurance training center that could benefit from the planned reform. His departure is a blow for French President Emmanuel Macron, who pledged to streamline the system when he was elected. Macron is expected to replace Delevoye quickly.

Will the unions win? In 1995, France’s public sector workers forced another government to abandon its planned pension reform by shutting down transportation networks just weeks before Christmas. The union organizers are hoping to do the same this year, but their path to success remains unclear—particularly as their demands grow broader.

What We’re Following Today

Is the global economy steadying? The world’s economy could be stabilizing according to data that shows positive developments and in response to news of a limited trade agreement between the United States and China. The U.S. stock market closed at a record high on Monday, while U.S. economic growth has reached a five-month high. That likely reflects growing economic certainty: The U.S.-China trade war appears to have reached its peak, the British election has cemented a 2020 Brexit, and the U.S. Federal Reserve has halted its interest rate cuts. Still, some uncertainties remain. European economists have again lowered their growth forecast for next year, to just 1.1 percent.

China, Russia propose lifting North Korea sanctions. On Monday, China and Russia proposed that the United Nations Security Council lift an export ban on particular North Korean products, including seafood and textiles. While Russia said the move could encourage North Korea to come back to the negotiating table with the United States, a U.S. State Department official said it was not the time. The United States, Britain, and France oppose lifting U.N. sanctions on North Korea until it denuclearizes. Negotiations on the issue begin today.

Also on the agenda for the U.N. Security Council today—at China’s request—is the issue of Indian-administered Kashmir. The council last met about Kashmir behind closed doors in August, shortly after India revoked its autonomy.

Kurdish commander calls on U.S. for help. Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has called on the United States to bring Turkey in line with the cease-fire agreement signed in October. In particular, Turkey is violating the condition that both sides would protect minorities in the 20-mile zone it seized from Kurdish forces. “America should not allow forced changes in demography and ethnic cleansing in the 21st century,” Abdi told FP’s Lara Seligman in an interview.

Keep an Eye On

Netanyahu’s challenger. Israeli politician Gideon Saar has officially launched his campaign to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as head of the Likud party. Though he remains an underdog, Saar is gaining support ahead of the party’s Dec. 26 leadership vote. The bid marks the first serious challenge to Netanyahu within Likud as he faces corruption charges that could push him out of office after 10 years.

A landmark lawsuit. Congolese families who say their children were killed or injured while mining cobalt—used in rechargeable lithium batteries—have filed a landmark lawsuit in the United States, suing Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla—the first time any of the companies has been named in such a lawsuit. More than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Islamophobia in Britain. Questions about bigotry came up throughout the election campaign in Britain, with the Labour Party facing allegations of widespread anti-Semitism and the winning Conservatives accused of Islamophobia. Hate crimes against Muslims are increasing, and Islamophobia is a bigger issue today than after the 2005 London bombings. It’s a problem that Prime Minister Boris Johnson must address, H.A. Hellyer argues in FP.

Odds and Ends

Fire chiefs in Australia have pledged to host their own summit on the growing bushfire crisis—with or without the country’s prime minister. The announcement comes as blazes rage across the country and as Australia got in the way of a deal at the U.N. climate summit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has downplayed the links between climate change and Australia’s worsening fire seasons, the Guardian reports.

That’s it for today.

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

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