Morning Brief

France Is Still on Strike

After more than a month of walkouts, French unions and the government haven’t reached a compromise over planned pension reform.

Lawyers take part in a demonstration against the French government's plan to overhaul the country's retirement system, on Jan. 6 in Lyon, France.
Lawyers take part in a demonstration against the French government's plan to overhaul the country's retirement system, on Jan. 6 in Lyon, France. JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France’s unions have yet to reach a deal with the government over pension reform, the United States and Iran appear to stand down, and Putin and Erdogan push for a cease-fire in Libya.

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No Compromise Yet in France

Some of France’s unions have called another nationwide protest today against state pension reform, over a month since public sector walkouts began. Rail workers walked off on Dec. 5, making it the longest continuous strike in the history of France’s national rail service. Protesters are returning to the streets while a compromise between the unions and the government over the reform—a reelection promise of President Emmanuel Macron—still seems out of reach.

On Tuesday, the government and the unions resumed negotiations to try to end the deadlock. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has said he is “open to any discussions of the terms,” including the proposal to incentivize a later retirement age. On the eve of the protest, the talks hadn’t gone far. “We’re far from a deal this evening,” the head of the moderate CFDT union said.

Escalating tactics. An increase in public transit disruption is expected today, particularly in Paris, and schools could be shut. The two left-wing unions that called today’s strike have promised to continue and pushed to shut down refineries, which would cause further disruption. Another mass protest is expected on Saturday.

India on strike. A 24-hour strike also disrupted India on Wednesday, with workers walking out in major cities against the government’s economic policies. The strike came after unofficial statistics projected India’s growth to slow to 5 percent in 2020. Public transport was affected in major cities, though New Delhi and Mumbai avoided major disruption.

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What We’re Following Today

Trump seems to step back from war. After Iranian strikes on U.S. and coalition military targets in Iraq, U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday seemed to open the door to de-escalation with Iran—even as he announced more “punishing economic sanctions.” Trump stepped back from threatening a response to the attack—retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani on Friday. Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran did “not seek escalation or war.” Still, Iran could still find new ways to strike asymmetrically, as an energy expert tells FP’s Keith Johnson.

Meanwhile, the U.S. decision to assassinate Suleimani has given Russia a chance to cement its reputation as a regional power broker. It’s also likely to test its ability to be a friend to all major players, FP’s Reid Standish and Amy Mackinnon report.

Tensions over plane crash in Tehran. Meanwhile, there has been little clarity on what happened to the Ukraine International flight that went down in Tehran, killing at least 176 people on board. The crash came hours after Iran launched its strikes, with Iranian troops on alert for a counterattack. The incident is strained by U.S.-Iran distrust. Ukraine and Iran issued conflicting statements on Wednesday, and some experts have speculated the plane could have been attacked. Iran will lead an investigation, though it said it would not send the plane’s black box to U.S. manufacturer Boeing. Canada, which lost 63 citizens, is seeking to play a role.

Turkey and Russia push for Libya cease-fire. Meeting in Istanbul, the leaders of Turkey and Russia jointly called for the factions in Libya’s civil war to declare a cease-fire on Sunday as the conflict spirals. Ankara supports the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, where it could soon send troops. Moscow’s mercenaries have fought with the rival grouping of Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which took the strategic city of Sirte this week. A recent escalation in fighting has raised concerns within the region and the United Nations, which welcomed the call for a cease-fire.

Keep an Eye On

Ireland’s next election. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar meets today with an opposition leader in his minority government to discuss the date of the next parliamentary election. With Britain leaving the European Union on Jan. 31, both agree an election should be held by May—though it could come as early as next month if they can’t agree on a legislative agenda.

Global opinion of Trump. People around the world express little confidence (29 percent) in U.S. President Donald Trump, according to an annual survey by the Pew Research Center published Wednesday. His worst ratings come from Western Europe and Mexico, and the least confidence was expressed in his handling of foreign policy.

Norway’s refugee policy. Norway announced Wednesday that it would give refuge to 600 people evacuated from Libya’s dangerous detention centers to Rwanda. In what it says is an effort to disincentivize human trafficking in the Mediterranean, Norway’s coalition government agreed to take in 3,000 refugees from U.N. camps this year.

Odds and Ends

Car manufacturer Toyota announced plans for a “city of the future” near Japan’s Mount Fuji as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles, robotics, and other technology, the Guardian reports. The community, planned by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, would house 2,000 employees and other researchers. It would be “fully sustainable,” powered by hydrogen fuel cells and solar panels.

That’s it for today. 

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

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