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The SNCF manages France's train transport. Photo SNCF

Strike: French ministers forbidden to show they are on vacation

While the country is still paralyzed by a general strike, the executive must give the impression of being at work, not on leave.

Published: December 22, 2019, 5:44 am

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    No one is willing to admit to it, and all will give the impression of being hands on deck. According to French daily Le Parisien, the ministers were instructed, for the end-of-year holidays, to appear “available”, three weeks after the start of a massive strike in opposition to the pension reform.

    “The reality is that because of the strikes, people risk being separated from their families for Christmas,” said “an adviser” of the Macron administration to the newspaper.

    The example not to be followed is quite obvious: “Last year, Benjamin Griveaux returned from Marrakech super sun-tanned in the middle of a Yellow Vest crisis. It was really bad. This year everyone wants to avoid that.”

    The members of the executive had to indicate, as early as November, where they would go on vacation. This information is listed at Hôtel de Matignon, the official residence of the Prime Minister of France, also for security reasons, revealed the Parisian newspaper. And everyone has received the same directive: “Be visible in the media because people chat with each other on New Years Eve,” said a “collaborator” quoted by the newspaper.

    On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s services texted to the ministers’ communicators to find out what morning interviews they had planned for the next two weeks. It thus seems obvious that the visual aspect of executive communication is being scrutinised.

    Even though Emmanuel Macron will rest, he “will not disappear” from the public eye said one of his relatives, adding that the head of state will continue his “permanent exchange with the Prime Minister”.

    Prime Minister Édouard Philippe will be in Normandy, and regularly in Paris, as the pension reform requires him to be.

    The directives have probably been put into place to avoid more of the chaos currently facing train passengers. According to the latest SNCF transport plan, only 53 percent of travelers have had their journey confirmed for vacation departures.

    This trying situation was aggravated due to the most recent “brilliant” idea of ​​Jean-Baptiste Djebbari. In fact, according to Le Parisien, the Minister of Transport Djebbari, promised on Tuesday that “all French people who have a ticket will have a guaranteed train” for departures during the Christmas holidays.

    Sadly, his statement was completely false, adding to the cacophony and unpredictability already clouding the tense transportation issue.

    Actually, the SNCF management confirmed shortly after, that only half of all passengers had had their journeys confirmed. If the 15 percent of customers who will be able to leave on another train are added, a possible departure rate of 68 percent could be attained.

    This figure corresponds to the forecasts announced by Rachel Picard, director general of SNCF Voyages, in Paris. She announced that “more than half of passengers” could leave. For the remaining 32 percent likely to remain standing on the platform, the SNCF is hopeful that they could eventually find other transport, but nevertheless “estimates that between 10 and 15 percent will have no solution”.

    “Everything will also depend on the rate of strikes”, which is impossible to anticipate since they can file their notice 48 hours before, a source in the SNCF told the Parisian daily. In addition, train drivers are particularly well-represented among the strikers: on the 13th day of mobilization, on Tuesday, some 75,8 percent percent were not working.

    The minister’s intervention in any case forced the SNCF to revise its estimates to stick to the minister’s declarations, repeating that the 850 000 travelers who have a ticket will have a solution for traveling, while knowing that, for some, finding a fall-back solution would be very complicated if not impossible.

    “We didn’t need this. We do our best. But how can one imagine that in the middle of a fierce strike that we could circulate 100 percent of the people who have a ticket. It is illusory!” an angry SNCF executive told Ile-de-France daily.

    The government spokeswoman has also contributed to fueling the rising criticism against the Macron administration. She commented on Minister Gérald Darmanin’s statement this week in French magazine Paris Match. According to the minister, Emmanuel Macron needs to surround himself with more people from “popular France”, that is to say “people who drink beer and eat with their hands”.

    Between judicial matters and small polemical declarations, the work of Sibeth Ndiaye consists more and more in extinguishing the fires set due to the mistakes made by Macron’s ministers… as well as her own gaffes. This was again the case on Friday December 20 when the government spokesperson commented on what Darmanin had said.

    Ndiaye, who is the only black face of the government, was obviously very amused that the subject was approached on RTL: “In African culture, you eat with your hands, you don’t eat with forks and spoon,” she responded.

    “In a government, there is a need for personalities who have diverse origins and I sincerely believe that in the government that we have today we’re not just 40-year-old techno-whites,” thus disavowing Gérald Darmanin. She repeated her plea for “diverse backgrounds”.

    Many in the political class, and in particular Eric Ciotti, was not amused. For the elected LR member, the words of Sibeth Ndiaye “carry a racialized vision of French society contrary to our Republican ideal,” he said on Twitter.

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