WRAPUP 4-Sarkozy’s pension headache lifts as strikes end

* Oil ports, refineries end strikes across France

* Protest fatigue may dampen turnout at Nov. 6 march

* Sarkozy moving on, though pension debate may return

(Adds port backlog, fuel details, edits, changes byline)

By Emmanuel Jarry and Mathilde Cru

PARIS, Oct 29 (BestGrowthStock) – Workers at France’s biggest oil
port broke a month-long strike on Friday, and refinery workers
also ended walkouts, ending a bitter showdown with President
Nicolas Sarkozy over his flagship pension reform.

The first of several dozen oil tankers moored off the
southern port of Marseille could start offloading from Friday
evening, local CGT union official Pascal Galeote said after
workers at the Fos-Lavera terminal voted for an end to action
that had put a stranglehold on refineries.

The strikes, which drained petrol pumps and forced up fuel
imports, were the culmination of months of protests against
Sarkozy’s plan to lift the retirement age and a major test for
the president.

Stuck with dismal popularity ratings 18 months before a
presidential election, Sarkozy looks stronger for having stared
down France’s influential trade unions with a law he says will
stem a gaping pension deficit. [ID:nLDE69S1XW]

Unions still fiercely oppose the law, however, and a clause
in the text offering a fuller pension review in 2013 means the
issue may yet come back to haunt Sarkozy.

“All this leaves marks, burns even,” a government minister
told Reuters this week, on condition of anonymity.


For all stories on the French protests: [ID:nLDE69H1EP]

Graphic on fuel shortages: http://link.reuters.com/hut69p

Map of European strikes: http://r.reuters.com/war95p

European retirement ages: http://link.reuters.com/dez28p

Euro zone “misery index”: http://r.reuters.com/wew88p

For a feature on Marseille’s strikes: [ID:nLDE69S0OJ]


The Fos-Lavera strike, which began over local issues but
overlapped with the wider anti-pension protests, ended a day
after low turnout at street marches showed enthusiasm waning.

Marseille port authorities said it would take about a month
to clear the backlog of oil tankers.

French service stations should be back to normal by the
middle of next week, Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said.

“Today a number of elements made it possible to propose that
workers go back to work,” Galeote told reporters.

The industrial action failed to stop parliament passing the
law this week to gradually raise the minimum and full retirement
ages by two years to 62 and 67. The legislation now just needs
Constitutional Court approval.


Sarkozy wants to turn the page after a period that tarnished
the image he is trying to present of a modern France that can
tackle swollen deficits. He has a busy calendar next week,
attending a Franco-British summit in London on Tuesday then
hosting a three-day state visit by China’s President Hu Jintao.

Sometimes dubbed the “hyper-president” for his energetic
style, Sarkozy kept a low profile as strikes began winding down.

Rather than claim victory he has focused on his meeting with
Hu and a November G20 summit in Seoul when France will take over
the presidency of the economic leadership forum.

“Some concerns, often legitimate, have been expressed — I
have listened to them, I have thought about them and at the
appropriate time, I will take initiatives to respond to them,”
Sarkozy told a news conference in Brussels for an EU summit.

Sarkozy’s pension reform has sparked some of the most
sustained protests in Europe against deficit-cutting measures.

While polls still show most people back the movement, Force
Ouvriere union leader Jean-Claude Mailly acknowledged there were
were signs of “a little fatigue”.

His victory over the unions gives Sarkozy some breathing
time as he looks to reshuffle his cabinet next month with an eye
on wooing centrist and far-right voters whose support he will
need in 2012.

But unions are already seizing on a clause in the reform
opening up the possibility of a comprehensive pension review in
2013 meaning the issue could still come back to bite Sarkozy.

“The pension problem does not end with the reform being
voted. It’s written in the text that the system will be reviewed
again in 2013,” CFDT union head Francois Chereque said in an
interview with Le Parisien.

Unions meet on Nov. 4 to decide whether to schedule further
action beyond street marches set for Nov. 6, while their
representatives at Air France (AIRF.PA: ) on Friday called for a
strike on Nov. 4. Turnout at demonstrations on Thursday was down
by around half from earlier in the month.

French media are largely moving on from the pension showdown
and are engrossed in speculation about the cabinet reshuffle.
(Writing by Catherine Bremer; Additional reporting by
Jean-Francois Rosnoblet in Martigues and Daniel Flynn in Paris)

WRAPUP 4-Sarkozy’s pension headache lifts as strikes end