Skip to main content

Strikes cost France hundreds of millions a day, minister says

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Strikers stop blocking fuel depots and go back to work at some refineries
  • Protests against pension reform have cost the country $280 to $560 million a day, Christine Lagarde says
  • The costs include fuel shortages, lost foreign investment, and damage to the country's reputation, she says
  • Unions have been fighting a government plan to raise the retirement age to 62

Paris, France (CNN) -- Strikes in France cost the country 200 to 400 million euros ($280 to $560 million) per day, plus "immaterial" and "moral" damages, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Monday.

French workers staged a series of rolling strikes and demonstrations this month and last month against government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, among other pension reforms.

Lagarde's estimate covers a period of nearly two weeks, since rolling strikes began on October 12, a finance ministry spokesman told CNN, and takes in the fuel crisis, the deterioration of the country's image, and the impact on foreign investment.

She was speaking with French broadcaster Europe 1.

The fuel crisis caused by the strike has started to ease, said Yves le Goff, a spokesman for the French oil industry association UFIP.

Video: France raises retirement age
Video: CEO: French pension reform good idea
Video: Vote to change retirement age
Video: Protesters gather ahead of Senate vote

"None of the fuel depots are blocked anymore and three of the twelve refineries are no longer on strike," he told CNN.

Drivers had been waiting for hours to refill the tanks of their cars in some parts of the country after strikers shut down all 12 of France's refineries and blocked some fuel depots last week.

The French Senate passed the reforms last week despite the demonstrations, and a final vote reconciling its bill with that of the lower house of parliament is expected within days.

Protesters scuffled with police and blockaded oil refineries and terminals for days as tensions flared over the measures that the government says are necessary to save money and shrink the deficit.

"It was our job to do this reform," Labor Minister Eric Woerth said after the Senate vote on Friday. "It's to assure that our children can have the same pension benefits that we do."

Finance Minister Lagarde has said the country cannot continue to pay its debts -- to retirees and others -- by borrowing at current levels. The government's announced goal is to cut the deficit from 8 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product by next year, an ambitious goal.

Woerth said Thursday that the retirement reform has been the single most debated bill in terms of the number of hours the Senate has spent examining it since the creation of the fifth republic in 1958.

Seven senators and seven members of the National Assembly are meeting early this week to reconcile the differences between the two bills. Each house will then vote for or against the bill proposed by the conference committee.

A final vote on the reform is expected early Tuesday or Wednesday in both the Senate and National Assembly, according to a spokesman in the Senate.

The lower house of parliament passed the pension reform bill in September, by a vote of 329 to 233.

More than a million people have turned out nationwide to protest the proposal.

Six major French unions have called for further nationwide demonstrations on October 28 and November 6, saying that protests so far show the people are ready to dig in for the long haul.

Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said Friday that the situation was slowly getting better.

"We're headed for improvement," he said.

CNN's Winnie Andrews and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.