Macron-omics

The French President’s Labor Reforms are Necessary, but Outpacing Employment Safeguards

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French President Emmanuel Macron has successfully reformed the country’s labor code. Now it’s time to uphold the other end of the bargain. Wikimedia Commons. 

In late March 2018, French rail workers went on a nationwide strike, causing massive delays in the country’s subway systems. Hordes of Parisian commuters could be seen exiting over-crowded cars as they returned from work hours late. And yet, this is just one of many protests in the past few months from civil servants and union members alike in France. Since passing labor reforms in August 2017, the romanticized popularity of President Emmanuel Macron has been thrown for a loop. Although he was elected by a wide margin, thousands have opposed the lack of job-for-life guarantees and meager retirement benefit plans of his more flexible labor laws. Yet this uptick in protests does not necessarily mean that reforms have been unsuccessful. On the contrary, his efforts to overhaul the indecipherably complex French labor code are overdue, and already improving growth. Employee and benefit cuts are expected to immediately accompany these newest reforms and improve national productivity, profit, and innovation. However, the National Assembly must also improve unemployment programs to ensure fair firing practices and improve long-term economic stability.

A notoriously thick red book symbolic of France’s historical socialist republic, the Code du Travail is lauded by unions but loathed by employers. France’s largest unions see the 3,324 page code as key to protecting employees from exploitation since 1910. Yet employers are often paralyzed by the Code’s dirigisme (regulatory interventionism), which demands a costly process to hire and fire employees. Modern companies see these conditions as partly responsible for the Euro’s moderate performance, France’s stagnant GDP, and its consistently high 10% unemployment rate. Youth unemployment rates are even higher, long standing near 25%. Macron took on labor reform last August as a way of revitalizing the French economy, successfully passing a bill that overhauls exceedingly rigid restrictions.   …

But while business is booming – and desperately needs to – Macron has yet to uphold the second part of the overhaul bargain.

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Costa Rica Could Be Losing Its Political Example

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Street Vendors in San José, Costa Rica. Inequality has increased rapidly in the country throughout the past decade. Wikimedia Commons.

      Famously lauded as an exception to trends of overall political instability in Central America, Costa Rica has presented an enduring model of socially democratic peace for the region. The country is the area’s longest-standing democracy since it famously decided to abolish its military under the 1949 Constitution to invest in social services such as universal education and healthcare. Since then, it has come to be seen as a landmark of environmental stewardship, a beacon of prosperity to neighboring immigrants, and – with its Pura Vida (pure life) mentality – one of the happiest countries on earth. It is because of this tradition of remarkable democracy, peace, and social wellbeing that many have referred to Costa Rica as politically exceptional, especially in comparison to its neighbors’ history of civil unrest.

       But the country’s recent history reveals quite the opposite. In recent years, Costa Rica has become just as prone to divisive political and economic trends as the rest of the world.

       For one, income inequality has increased drastically in the last decade, due in part to the country’s semi-recent free trade policies adopted during the 1990s. While the economy continues to grow with global markets, it is not benefiting all Ticos (Costa Ricans) equally, leaving behind coastal and rural populations outside of the urban Central Valley. Now, according to The National Institute of Statistics and the Census, 20% of Ticos live in poverty, due to cheap wages for low-skilled employees. This makes Costa Rica, a country that has consistently had the lowest level of inequality in Latin America, now equivalent to the OECD regional average.

       The security situation has also deteriorated. Formerly just a stop on a larger trafficking route, Costa Rica is now home to both organized crime and drug operations. The rise of drug trafficking, a byproduct of larger inequality, has also increased the rate of violence in the country. Formerly known as the safest, most peaceful country in Central America, Costa Rica now has a homicide rate of 12 per 100,000 people, surpassing that of neighboring Nicaragua. According to the director of San José’s municipal police, with 603 violent deaths last year and 146 to date in 2018, the past twelve months have been “the bloodiest in the nation’s history.” Unfortunately, these incidents have shown that the ‘Switzerland of Central America’ is equally susceptible to international crime and violence in the territory.

      Lastly, Costa Rica is witnessing an impending financial crisis that could considerably shrink its famous social programs. The fiscal deficit is predicted to exceed seven percent in 2018 and public debt currently stands at 49 percent of GDP. This due in part to the country’s large bureaucracy, where twenty percent of Ticos are employed with high salaries and guaranteed annual raises. Current President Luis Guillermo Solís claims he has cut all he can in light of partisan gridlock, instead prioritizing tax revenue in February with a fast-track reform law. Yet Ticos say this isn’t enough, calling the new law a temporary fix that raises taxes without first cutting public salaries. Experts predict that if the next administration cannot address the country’s finances in the next year, this former bastion of prosperity and social equality may have to roll back the services that made it so exceptional in the first place.

      Each of these three issues suggests that Costa Rica has become susceptible to globally disruptive trends; ones that stand to threaten the country’s history of a strong social democracy. But surprisingly, none of them were the focus of the past Presidential Election. The priority, instead, was same-sex marriage.

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Truck Ploughs Through Crowd in Münster, Germany

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A truck rammed through the Kiepenkerl center of Münster, Germany’s old town last Saturday. Wikimedia Commons. 

At least three are dead and 30 injured after a truck rammed through a crowd in the North-Rhine Westphalia town of Münster, Germany on Saturday. The incident took place at Grosser Kiepenkerl, a popular restaurant near the center of the city’s old town. According to eyewitnesses and local authorities, the driver, a German citizen, ran full speed over a sidewalk where a crowd of diners was eating before shooting himself dead. Police are not considering other suspects at this time, and have closed off the site while emergency services work.

Senior security officials said it was too early to call the crash an act of terrorism, but were taking response measures as if it were. They remarked the tragedy is particularly unfortunate, as the regional police union has so far been able to foil and prevent other planned attacks in the area. Germany has been on high alert for two years due to a string of terrorist activity across Europe. The country’s last such incident was in December 2016, when a rejected Tunisian asylum seeker drove into a Berlin Christmas market.

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Kemerovo Governor Resigns After Fire

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev. The Kremlin.

The governor of the Russian region of Kemerovo, Aman Tuleyev, has resigned amidst a shopping mall fire that killed dozens. The Winter Cherry shopping center went up in flames last week after alleged safety failings, particularly broken fire alarms and unresponsive security guards. Over 60 people were killed, 41 of them children, using entertainment facilities such as theaters at the top of the building whose doors were supposedly locked. Thousands of protestors took to the streets in the aftermath of the tragedy, blaming the incident on political corruption and governmental incompetence.

In his final video address to the region, Tuleyev, whose niece was one of the victims, referred to stepping aside as “the right, conscious, and only true decision.” President Vladimir Putin previously met with him, blaming the act on “criminal negligence”, but abstained from firing Mr. Tuleyev as the Kremlin is able to do.  However under immense pubic pressure, experts speculate that the Kremlin indirectly forced Mr. Tuleyev out so as to calm community outrage without giving the impression that the office can be swayed by public opinion. Mr. Tuleyev’s has been governor of the Siberian region since 1997.

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Ex-Catalan Leader Detained by German Police

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Protestors in Barcelona following Carles Puigdemont’s arrest. Lluis Gene, AFP/Getty Images. 

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has been detained by German police acting on a European arrest warrant for his return to Spain. The ex-leader is wanted for sedition and rebellion after his separatist region of Catalonia unilaterally declared independence in October following what Madrid calls an illegal referendum. While Puigdemont has been living in Brussels in self-imposed exile since then, the formal warrant for his arrest was only drawn up in December and just reissued Friday. It comes along with those of 25 other Catalan leaders, sparking massive protests in Barcelona.

Puigdemont was in Helsinki, Finland at the time it was announced, but evaded authorities by slipping out of the country early. The activist was attempting to return to Belgium Sunday when he was caught crossing the Danish border into northern Germany. His warrant is one of many legal setbacks to the independence movement, which has lost momentum in recent months due to the arrests of many top activists. It has the potential to permanently extradite Puigdemont and kill the movement, which has been hoping for but has yet to receive international backing from his exile.

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Putin Claims Victory Amidst Election Fraud Allegations

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Russian President Vladimir Putin Won Reelection for his Fourth Term March 18. Flickr. 

Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed reelection victory on March 18 in unsurprising results for a noncompetitive election. Official numbers credit him with over 75% of the vote, easily securing the autocrat another six years in office. This recent victory essentially guarantees that Putin with oversee the country for a total of 25 years, making him the only other Russian leader to rule for more than two decades besides dictator Joseph Stalin.

With several unviable opponents, Moscow attempted to increase turnout to indicate the legitimacy of its ‘democracy’ to the outside world. Get-out-the-vote campaigns included selfie competition raffles for iPhones and cars. Hard-to-find food products were placed as incentives for voting at polling places. Bosses threatened termination if employees abstained from voting. And it may have worked: turnout increased from 65% in the 2012 elections to 70% in 2018. At the same time, Golos, an independent election monitoring group, has cited multiple counts of election fraud, including ballot stuffing and blocking security cameras. Nonetheless, the Russian Election Commission has declared the polls valid.

Regardless, the real controversies are not necessarily the conditions of this election, but the upcoming one. …

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Brazil Mourns Slain Councilwoman

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Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Marielle Franco. Flickr.

Thousands have taken to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to mourn Marielle Franco, a 38 year old City Councilor who campaigned against police brutality. She was shot dead returning from a black women’s empowerment event Wednesday. A former resident of Favela de Mare, one of Rio’s most violent slums, Ms. Franco was known for heavily criticizing President Michel Temer’s decision to deploy military forces to Brazil’s favelas to decrease violent crimes. His policy was announced in February after it was revealed the country experienced 2,125 violent deaths in the past year.

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France’s National Front Rebrands

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National Front Party Leader Marine Le Pen. Wikimedia Commons.

A visit by Steve Bannon. A vote to change the party name. These were just some of the elements at the far-right National Front’s conference in Lille, France this past weekend. The conference comes amidst substantive presidential and legislative losses for the party as well as accusations that it has not done enough to distance itself from its Nazi origins. In response, party leader Marine Le Pen has noted the need for rebranding, hoping the efforts will change public attitudes, revive member support, and make it easier to form political alliances.

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Chile’s Renewable Energy Transformation Leaves Much to Be Desired

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A recent New York Times article praised Chile for its innovative renewable energy transformation, lauding the country for making its energy sources more sustainable while serving as a leader for the rest of Latin America. But the Times did not offer a comprehensive look at energy and the environment in the country.

Chile is one of ten global leaders in renewable energy, due to geography that provides a plethora of natural resources: the Atacama Desert is perfect for the procurement of solar power, the long coastline provides ample winds for wind farms, and active volcanoes make the country poised for geothermal energy collection. Yet, investments in these renewable sources are new, and face problems of transmission and excessive demand.

Furthermore, the Times article focused on energy for electricity, but ignored heating. While endowed with a natural advantage for renewable electricity sources, Chile has little to no natural gas reserves to speak of. The country is thus reliant  on Argentinian imports for heat energy, making utilities incredibly expensive and environmentally harmful.

Therefore, while Chile is well-positioned to develop both electric and geothermal alternatives, these avenues have not been sufficiently explored. Thus, Chile is not yet experiencing as much of an energy transformation as projected and must further develop these technologies.

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Debt Crisis Hinders Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria Relief

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Months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017, relief efforts continue to be stalled by the island’s damaged infrastructure. Outdated power and water systems were already in need of fixing long before the storm’s landfall because of bankrupt public service agencies following the island’s debt crisis. Coupled with previous damage from Hurricane Irma and the fact that many power and water lines were outdated and above ground, Maria’s landfall meant a complete breakdown of both power and pipelines. Contrary to Texas and Florida, which completely restored electricity and water seventeen days after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma respectively, experts predict Puerto Rico is likely to go at least six months without power.

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