Tracking Down France’s Essence

As anyone following European news knows, a wave of strikes has afflicted France for the last couple weeks.* Today in particular is the sixth in a (non-consecutive) series of days meant to heighten protest on the country’s streets to a nationwide level, all with the general aim of putting a stop to a planned raising of the national retirement age from 60 to 62 – a measure which nonetheless continues its procedural way through the two houses of the French national legislature despite the turmoil in the rest of the country.

For France, certainly, such an outbreak of widespread strikes and demonstrations is certainly nothing new, although the current spate does feature a couple of intriguing aspects. One is the relatively recent outpouring into the protestors’ ranks by both secondary-school and university students, even as the relevance to them of the retirement age issue remains questionable. (I suppose that, if anything, it involves moving their elders out of jobs and into retirement sooner rather than later, so that those positions can open up for them – but is that really even a remotely-accurate description of how the employment market works there? In a static economy like that of the USSR, maybe; in modern France, certainly not.)

More engaging to this observer is the way the strikes are shutting down the country’s petroleum distribution system, swiftly leading to the sort of ugly petrol station-mobbing and hoarding behavior by motorists seeking precious essence (French for “gasoline”) of the kind last seen in the West way back at the time of the second great “oil shock” (occasioned by the Iranian Revolution) of 1979. Indeed, it’s precisely this (and seemingly not, say, the half-million people marching through the streets of Paris) which so far has really engaged the French leadership. President Nicholas Sarkozy had to issue a statement from his summit with German and Russian leaders that he would make sure that the blockades of the oil refineries end, and his prime minister, François Fillon, is in fact meeting with key fuel sector executives at his palace, the Matignon, later today.

It’s now a very different world than back in 1979, although you might be fooled considering the similar sort of manic craze that can be raised in today’s society by uncertainty in gasoline supplies. But today we have the Internet, and greatly-expanded communications possibilities generally, and Le Figaro (the President’s newspaper, essentially) has stepped into the breach with a new article detailing how those savvy on-line can gain an advantage to filling up, or at least avoiding empty stations. You can follow along yourself at home for your own amusement (but it does help to know French): at this discussion-board, for example, or with this map of empty stations or maybe this one here.

What’s intriguing to me is that smartphone penetration among French consumers is assuredly nowhere near high enough to result in panicked motorists careening around to find an open gas station guided by the telephone-screen they hold in one hand as they hold the steering-wheel in the other. Not yet, at least; but that day will surely come.

*To those who have already sent inquiries or might become so inclined: NO, EuroSavant has not been participating in this strike, and in fact we hold absolutely no sympathy for it or its aims.

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