French floods, strikes cast pall over Euro 2016

French floods, strikes cast pall over Euro 2016

PARIS – Agence France-Presse
French floods, strikes cast pall over Euro 2016

AFP photo

The swollen Seine receded on June 5, but between flood damages, strikes and terror fears, France was firmly stuck in the doldrums just five days before the Euro football tournament.

Thick grey clouds hung over Paris as the muddy Seine slowly inched back from a three-decade high that saw it burst its banks in places, forcing the Louvre and Orsay museums to shut their doors to evacuate priceless works.

But while crowds thronged to photograph the river -- Paris’s star attraction this weekend -- residents in nearby towns picked through their devastated homes, with insurers estimating damages of at least 600 million euros ($681 million).

Several towns remained on alert after the floods left four people dead in the Paris region this week, and over 11,000 homes were without electricity. In Paris several metro stations remained shut as a precaution.

Ground down by a series of attacks last year, months of often violent anti-government protests, and transport chaos due to strikes, the floods were the last thing the weary French needed.

“It is really bad, we don’t need this now with all the constant strikes, the Vigipirate plan,” said bank employee Pascal Derby, 62, referring to the high alert imposed after the terror attacks in January and November last year.

“All the authorities are stretched -- the police, firemen -- we need to honour them. It is a nightmare,” he told AFP, gloomily watching the swirling waters of the Seine.

France’s list of almost biblical woes has coincided with what is supposed to be Europe’s biggest football celebration -- with 1.5 million visitors expected for the one month championship which starts on June 10.

“A party despite everything ...” headlined the Sunday newspaper “Journal du Dimanche.”

France is rolling out unprecedented security for the event, seven months after 130 people were killed in a series of terror attacks in Paris -- which included three suicide bombings at the national football stadium.
The country is still under a state of emergency and considered a prime target for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and some 90,000 security forces will protect stadiums and fan zones.

However Paris’ overstretched police this week asked government to shut a massive fan zone in the capital when matches are played in the city’s two stadiums.

Police chief Michel Cadot cited the “exhaustion” of officers and the threat of terrorism, in a letter to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve seen by AFP.

Meanwhile there was no end in sight to five days of train strikes that created massive headaches for travelers on the back of a week of industrial action that left the French queueing for petrol.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on June 4 urged train operator SNCF to call off the strike in solidarity with the French during the floods.

“This strike is already incomprehensible, but in the regions affected (by floods), it is completely incomprehensible,” he said on a visit to the flooded central town of Crosne.

Household rubbish risked building up in the Paris region and elsewhere in the country as refuse centers downed tools against the government’s labor reforms, which are at the heart of the wave of industrial unrest.

And Air France pilots are threatening to start a four day strike on June 11, when the Euro tournament is in full swing, and a major protest is planned in Paris on the 14th.

Although each of the strikes has its own motivations, the unions are united in opposition to the labor reforms.

Government says the reforms will reduce unemployment by making it easier to hire and fire employees.

However unions say the law favors bosses by letting them set their own working conditions for new employees, rather than being bound to industry-wide agreements, allowing companies to cut jobs during hard times and go beyond the 35-hour work week.

President François Hollande is refusing to scrap the legislation in the power struggle which comes less than a year ahead of a presidential election.

New polls this week showed Hollande only had a 14-percent approval rating, while the government as a whole mustered a lowly 10 percent.