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What the papers said 9 April 2018

rfi English, Apr 9

The government and the Unions do battle to win over public opinion as French rail workers dig in for painful strikes against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul the heavily indebted SNCF railway transporter.

Le Parisien says life for travellers promises to be a survival of the fittest this week with one in five high-speed TGV trains operating, one-quarter of Eurostar trains cancelled, no trains heading to Italy, only one in six trains going to Switzerland, one in five to Spain and only one in three to Germany.

Le Parisien also informs train users to expect a "black" Monday and Tuesday on some main national lines just one in six trains running today, only one in three regional trains running in the heavily used lines serving the Paris region.

According to Les Echos, neither side appears ready to back down, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warning that the government would not be deterred despite union pledges of three months of rolling stoppages, and possibly more.

The economic newspaper cheers the government on insisting on the imperative for Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to win a battle which it claims is vital not only to prove the cabinet's capacity to reform the economy during Macron's 5-year term of office.

Also as Les Echos puts it, Monsieur Philippe must dismiss claims by the hardline CGT Union and "Unbowed" party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon that the government is simply cowing to a diktat from the EU Commission in Brussels.

The publication argues that it would be tantamount to a political disaster just months to next year's European elections if the government allows the idea to settle down that Europe is playing against French interests by opening the SNCF to foreign competition.

La République des Pyrénées welcomes latest poll figures documenting a swing of public opinion towards the government. This is after an Ifop poll published Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that 62 percent of respondents were in favour of the SNCF reform one week after the unions' rolling industrial action.

This marks an increase of 11 percentage points from Ifop's survey on March 30-31, in which just 51 percent supported the reform, according to the regional publication.

The paper points out that there seems to be a blind adherence to the government's reform program especially as most respondents don't seem to understand the unions' unprecedented preference for industrial action which appeared intended to inflict maximum damage on the lives of 4.5 million daily passenger, using the rail network while minimizing the financial consequences for the strikers.

With regard to the battle to win over public opinion, Le Figaro welcomes the decision by President Macron who it claims has barely spoken publicly about the conflict so far, to give an hour-long TV interview on Thursday.

The conservative daily said he will have to be at his best in explaining why the SNCF needs to be revamped in order to guarantee better services and why the current industrial action is suicidal to the train operator and needs to be called off.

According to the Le Figaro, Macron and his Prime Minister will also have to negotiate a dangerous and decisive bend in coming days and avoid over confidence, which could lead to a loss of control at a time it appears on course for winning over French hearts.

Libération warns Prime Minister Edouard Philippe about any tough talk and SNCF bashing in the media and to stop brandishing the latest opinion survey showing strong support for the reforms. The left-leaning Libé says it could backfire arguing that the reality is more ambiguous than he believes.

In a comment on the government's communication strategy, l'Humanité claims that the Prime Minister's tough talk in the press about his determination to burst any road blocks standing on the government's path, is an exercise in deceit and an attempt to conceal other such projects taking place at an industrial scale.

The Communist daily denounces what it calls an army of media establishments trooping behind the prime minister and driven and guided by the interests of their "oligarch" bosses.


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