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October 21, 2019

Philippe to brace for more union protests

The French government is bracing itself for massive social mobilisation against pension reform. A prelude has been the Paris metro strikes in September and the wildcat strikes of SNCF trade unions last weekend. The spontaneous strikes were called after a train accident in eastern France. The one-conductor-per-train policy introduced a decade ago meant that a train driver, who was himself injured in the accident, was forced to walk for miles to call for help for eleven injured passengers in the train. All trade unions united in strike actions on Friday and over the weekend. They now also consider to join the RATP for their unlimited strike against the pension reform early December. Imagine no trains and metros in the pre-Christmas period, a nightmare!

Can the government keep public opinion on its side under these circumstances? At the moment Edouard Philippe says all cards are still on the table. He tuned down the expectations about the reform timetable. There also seems some flexibility about when it will kick in, in extremis the new regime could start with the generation that is just entering the labour market. But Emmanuel Macron will be keen to deliver what he considers to be a-make-or-break-reform. Also, while the gilets jaunes protests dissipated, the rebellious mood in society has not. The pension reform may not on the public radar screen just yet. At the moment, the trade unions are just seen as fighting for their own generous pension systems. But once the public faces the consequences for their own pensions, public opinion could well shift.

The confrontation with the trade unions has just started. Philippe may threaten legal actions against the illegal strikes last weekend, but he hardly can afford to radicalise trade unions ahead of the pension reform talks. 

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October 21, 2019

Greens are the electorates' new favourite

Green parties are the big winners in elections these days. The latest example are the elections in Switzerland. The two green parties there together reached 21% yesterday, increasing their share by 9pp since the last elections in 2015. Their victory will shake up the composition of the seven-seat Bundesrat, which hardly ever changed over the past decades. Clearly, the green movement and the Friday for future protests had been a vote changer. It brought up a deb ate on the cli mate change and its impact on Swiss glaciers in particular. It mobilised young voters as well as defenders of natural reserves to back the Greens in the elections.

In Austria the Greens advanced to become the favorite candidate to enter into government. Public opinion clearly changed since before the elections, considering now the Greens as the ideal candidate for a coalition with the conservative ÖVP under Sebastian Kurz leadership.  The far-right FPÖ, Kurz' former coalition partner, clearly lost backing in the polls. A Der Standard poll shows that a majority of 63% want to see a Green minister in the cabinet, 45% also favour the liberals represented in the new government, but only 23% still see the FPÖ in government. Unsurprisingly, Sebastian Kurz has the unchallenged backing to become the next chancellor, the question though remains whether he can secure a coalition agreement that is in sync with voters' expectations and at what price.

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