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December 02, 2019

Will pension reform protests spiral out of control?

Three French trade unions called for an unlimited strike starting this Thursday. They promise to immobilise the country with planned strikes on the train and metro networks, roads, and airports as well as in schools, energy companies and hospitals. Will the trade unions be able to guarantee an orderly strike? Or will it become a cyclone of various grievances and explode on to the street, as Le Monde puts it?

Students already have said they will join in, accusing the government of inaction over rising poverty. The gilets jaunes are also preparing to go back on the streets again. These protesters will test Emmanuel Macron's determination to push through the pension reform. This is not about whether the reform is sensible or not. This is about testing his resilience. Macron gave in to pressure last year, offering a package worth €7bn. What will the bill be this time?

Big factors to watch out for are whether there will be violence, and how public opinion will react to the protests. At the moment polls show that the public is largely supportive of the pension reforms. But there is also strong backing for the strikes, about 46% versus 33%. The undecided 21% could tip the balance of public opinion. The government is gearing up its communication and its negotiations with trade unions to limit the strikes. But the fear among government staffers is palpable, as is the radicalisation the French society is currently undergoing.

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December 02, 2019

Malta's PM resigns over murder case

The prime minister of the smallest EU country resigned over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017. This is the second time a member of the European Council had to resign following the contract murder of a journalist. The previous one was Robert Fico of Slovakia. The European Council is the single most important decision-making body of the EU. These events thus reverberate beyond each country's border. 

Yesterday, a defiant Joseph Muscat offered his resignation for mid-January, after a successor has been found, as events came to a tipping point. Caruana Galizia’s family pressured for Muscat's immediate departure, saying they are prepared to take legal action to ensure Malta’s police force is free to investigate alleged links between members of Muscat’s administration and those who ordered the killing. The latest crisis came after a businessman, Yorgen Fenech, was arrested and charged with complicity in the murder. He had offered to reveal government's insiders in return for a pardon, which Muscat refused. Fenech was set free again, outraging Galizia's family and supporters, who took their protest to the streets. 

Who is involved from the government? Fenech implicated Muscat's chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who resigned from his government post. Before her death Caruana Galizia reported that Schembr owned a secret company in Panama as well as former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, who also resigned last week.

A delegation from the European parliament will travel to Valetta today on a two-day mission to evaluate the functioning of rule of law. Muscat will have to answer why he held on to ministers who had been implicated in this corruption and murder case and how he is to represent the country until January. 

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