"Demonstration for a fiscal revolution - 01Dec13, Paris (France) - 01" by °]° is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Mass strikes in France against Macron’s Retirement Reform

Strikes and protests numbering over one million participants erupted across France on Thursday, in opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed retirement reforms. The strike encompassed workers from a variety of sectors, including transport, education, shipping, and media. In Paris alone 80,000 protesters took to the streets, where police deployed tear gas and made over 20 arrests

The disruption comes as Macron’s government unveiled plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030, an election pledge he made during his 2022 re-election campaign. Under the proposal, most workers will pay into their pension for two more years before retiring. Originally planned to increase to 65, the plan was watered down after Macron’s centrist alliance lost their parliamentary majority, in a bid to secure the votes needed to pass. Other concessions include increasing the minimum monthly pension from €900 to €1200, and exceptions for those who started working before age 20 and older workers in physically demanding jobs.

The reforms are intended to reduce the cost of France’s large government pension system after the deficit ballooned during the pandemic. In 2020 France spent the second most on pensions among EU countries at 13.0% of GDP, compared to the EU average of 10.3%.

Amid the rising cost of living, with inflation at 5.9%, the proposal has triggered widespread backlash: A recent poll found that 68% oppose Macron’s plan. Despite this, Macron has insisted he will press on with the reforms. With the support of Les Républicains, a conservative political party who have publicly backed the bill, Macron theoretically has the majority needed to pass the legislation. Should strikes and unrest persist, however, both Les Républicains and members of his own party may reconsider their support.

Germany’s New Defence Minister

On Monday, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned, as pressure mounted on her after a series of media gaffes and failures in her department. The Social Democrat (SPD) minister, part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party, has been widely criticised for being unfit for the job. 

With zero experience in military matters before taking the role, Lambrecht was dogged by mishaps throughout her tenure. In the lead up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lambrecht was ridiculed for refusing to send weapons to Ukraine, instead offering 5,000 helmets, a move that frustrated Kyiv and international allies. During a December training exercise by the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, all 18 of Germany’s heavy Puma vehicles malfunctioned, bringing the country’s combat-readiness into serious doubt. In a New Years video post, Lambrecht was labelled “tone deaf” by opposition parties for recounting the effects of the Ukraine War in Europe, barely audible over a background of exploding fireworks.

Lambrecht was replaced by another SPD ally of Scholz, Boris Pistorius, a state-level interior minister with little international experience, who was quickly tested at a NATO meeting of states sending military aid to Ukraine. Pistorius’ appointment comes at a contentious time for German defence policy, as Western nations step up military support to Ukraine with tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Germany has already agreed to send some heavy vehicles and an American-made Patriot air defence system, but has so far refused to send any tanks themselves and restricted allies from sending stockpiles of German-made tanks. 

As Ukraine continues calls for heavier equipment to expel Russia from occupied territory, allies are heaping pressure on Scholz to change tack. Pistorius will also handle the task of spending Scholz’s pledged €100 billion increase in military spending, aiming to modernise and reform Germany’s ageing Bundeswehr.

Peru Protests Cause Nationwide Chaos

Tensions flared again on Friday night as police clashed with protesters in anti-government demonstrations that are spreading across Peru. In Lima, the capital, police officers used teargas to repel demonstrators throwing glass bottles and stones, and fires burned in the streets. In the southern Puno region, about 1,500 protesters attacked a police station and 58 people have been injured nationwide in demonstrations, according to a report from a Peruvian official

Protests have been going on since December when Pedro Castillo was ousted as president and Dina Boluarte took office. Castillo was impeached and removed from office in December after he attempted to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government – a tactic that lawmakers slammed as an attempted coup. Boluarte, who assumed office after the impeachment, has dismissed calls for her to resign and hold snap elections, instead calling for dialogue and promising to punish those involved in the unrest. Some locals pointed the finger at Boluarte, accusing her of not taking action to quell the protests, which began on Dec. 7 in response to the ouster and arrest of Castillo. Human rights groups have accused the police and army of using deadly firearms. The police say protesters have used weapons and homemade explosives and the government has extended a state of emergency to six regions and curtailed some civil rights.

South Africa Experiences Energy and Governance Crisis

Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa, has cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland as the country grapples with an unprecedented energy crisis that has resulted in power cuts across the country of between eight and eleven hours per day. Anger is growing as offices, hospitals, factories, and tens of thousands of small businesses are forced to close, with outages also causing increased crime, traffic disruption, and massive wastage as food supply chains collapse. 

The power crisis in Africa’s most industrialised economy has been intensifying for several years and is caused by a failure to invest in an ageing fleet of largely coal-fuelled power stations, a lack of renewables, and corruption. Eskom, the state-owned electricity company that generates 90 percent of the country’s power, announced that its worst ever power cuts are set to last indefinitely, surpassing last year’s record of at least 100 days of rolling blackouts. The power cuts are believed to be costing around $235 million a year, and the unemployment rate is already 33 percent. The African National Congress (ANC) has announced that it will take over most of Eskom’s $25 billion debt in a bid to alleviate the company’s financial crisis and allow it to import diesel to run its power stations. The crisis will further destabilise Ramaphosa and his government, despite his re-election in December as leader of the ANC.

Israelis Protest to Protect High Court from Netanyahu

Israelis have taken to the streets in protest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to curb the power of the Israeli High Court, the country’s top judicial body. Having served as prime minister before, Netayahu returned to power after elections in November 2022, securing a coalition with far right and nationalist parties in what observers consider the country’s most right-wing government ever.

Netanyahu’s government is pushing for curbs on the power of the judiciary, seeking to control judge appointments and strip the High Court of its ability to strike down unconstitutional legislation. Critics say that the weakening of the High Court is a ploy to help Netanyahu in his ongoing criminal trial for fraud and bribery, as well as to overrule the court’s recent decision that interior and health minister Aryeh Deri is ineligible for office due to fraud convictions.

The protests have morphed into broader opposition towards Netanyahu’s right-wing government, with coalition members being criticised for outspoken homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Arab sentiment. The government has also announced plans to extend illegal settlements in the West Bank with the intention of annexing the territory, contravening international agreements.

Turkey Continues to Block NATO Accession of Sweden and Finland

Swedish and Finnish officials have continued to be frustrated by the Turkish government in their aspiration to join the NATO military alliance. Formally applying in May 2022, the Nordic states’ accession into NATO has been ratified by all member states but Hungary and Turkey. 

Turkey has so far blocked Sweden and Finland from joining on account of their weapons embargo on Turkey, and support for Kurdish groups that Turkey designates as terrorists. Sweden in particular has attracted ire from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they shelter many Kurds. Erdogan has demanded the extradition of 130 Kurds that Turkey deems to be terrorists, and that the countries join in fighting against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group by the US and EU.

Sweden and Finland have already made concessions to Ankara, ceasing their support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a predominantly Kurdish faction in the Syrian Civil War. Turkish forces are currently fighting the SDF, who they claim to have ties to the PKK, despite their role in defeating ISIS in the region.

The gridlock in negotiations is increasing tensions between Turkey and other NATO allies, who see Sweden and Finland as a huge security boost to Europe amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the US calling for Turkey to let Sweden and Finland in, and both anti-Turkish and anti-Kurdish protests starting in Sweden, NATO allies are growing frustrated.

Part of the reason for Erdogan’s hardline stance are the upcoming 2023 Turkish elections, with Erdogan riling up nationalist rhetoric as his polling slips. The outcome of the parliamentary and presidential elections could very well decide the future of NATO.