President Nicolas Sarkozy's government warned today that strikes against pension reform have cost up to three billion euros and threaten to derail France's still fragile economy recovery.
Lawmakers are expected to sign a bill increasing the retirement age from 60 to 62 this week, but trade unions have
called another strike for Thursday and ongoing protests around the country have triggered fuel shortages.
"Today, we shouldn't be weighing down this recovery with campaigns that are painful for the French economy and very
painful for a certain number of small and medium-sized businesses," warned Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.
Speaking to Europe 1 radio, Lagarde estimated that the strikes were costing the economy between 200 and 400 million
euros per day.
An official in her ministry told the pro-government daily Le Figaro that this figure applies to each in a series of
eight one-day stoppages, for a total bill of 1.6 to 3.2 billion euros (2.25 and five billion dollars).
Lagarde also warned that images broadcast around the world of demonstrators clashing with riot police and of
industrial sites blocked by protesters had cost France dear in terms of its international image for investors.
"It's the attractiveness of our territory that's at stake when we see pictures like that," she complained, adding that
ongoing strikes at refineries and fuel depots were also taking a toll. "It's obvious that the petrochemical sector in particular, which needs large supplies of hydrocarbons, is suffering," she said.
The Senate approved Sarkozy's fiercely-contested pensions bill on Friday, and the versions passed by the lower and upper house were reconciled on today, opening the way for it to be formally voted into law by Wednesday.
Sarkozy's supporters hoped that the near-inevitability of the law passing, and the advent of this week's half-term
school holidays, would see the protest movement begin to fade away over the coming days.
But trade unions remain defiant and have called more strikes and rallies.
Tomorrow, students plan to hold a day of protests at their universities, and on Thursday labour leaders have called
for their ninth one-day stoppage.
This will be repeated on November 6 if Sarkozy does not withdraw the law or open negotiations, but there seems little
chance of that, with the president's camp describing its passage as "a victory for France and the French."