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Migrants use their phones to access the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in a shelter near the US-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 24, 2023.

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Hard Numbers: Glitchy US border app, Japanese no-show canned, Paris stinks, Argentina’s inflation hits triple digits

2.5: A new US government app meant to speed the processing of asylum-seekers and other migrants arriving from Mexico has a rating of just 2.5 stars on Google play. Small wonder, given that the app is reportedly glitchy, difficult to use, and creates opportunities for scammers to prey on migrants and their families.

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Protesters attend a demonstration against the French government's pension reform plan in Paris.

REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

What We’re Watching: French pension strikes, Nord Stream saboteurs, a centrist battle in the US, Canadian elections vs. China

French workers vs. Macron

“Pas question!” (no way!) is what over a million striking French workers told President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday as they tried to bring the country to a screeching halt over his controversial plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. In what was billed as the biggest strike to date against the pension reforms, protesters shut down schools, stopped transportation, and even blocked fuel deliveries. And they seem to have the people on their side – two-thirds of the French support their cause. But Macron has made the reform his No. 1 policy priority, seeing it as the only feasible way to ensure that the pension system stays solvent in a country with an aging population. And despite the pushback from the streets, Macron has the votes in parliament to ram through the changes. He’ll likely wait for the streets to die down a bit before he signs the reform bill – but sign it he will.

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A protester near the Invalides during a demonstration against the government's pension reform plan in Paris

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

What We’re Watching: An encore for French protesters, Zelensky’s growing wish list, Weah’s reelection bid

Round Two: French pension reform strikes

For the second time in a month, French workers held mass protests on Tuesday against the government’s proposed pension reform, which would raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. Organized by the country’s eight big trade unions, authorities say as many as 1.27 million protesters hit the streets nationwide, bringing Paris to a standstill and closing schools throughout France. (Unions say the number was higher.) Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron is sticking to his guns, saying that incrementally raising the national retirement age by 2030 is crucial to reducing France’s ballooning deficit. (Currently, 14% of France’s public spending goes toward its pension program – the third-highest of any OECD country.) But for Macron, this is about more than just economics; his political legacy is on the line. Indeed, the ideological chameleon came to power in 2017 as a transformer and tried to get these pension reforms done in 2019, though he was ultimately forced to backtrack. But as Eurasia Group Europe expert Mujtaba Rahman points out, protesters’ “momentum is the key” and could determine whether legislators from the center-right back Macron or get swayed by the vibe on the street. This would force him to go at it alone using a constitutional loophole, which never makes for good politics. More demonstrations are planned for Feb.7 and Feb. 11.

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A cross-industry strike movement brings together several thousand people in the streets of Lille, France.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Macron’s challenges, Xi’s power play, Iran’s scarfless athlete, Ethiopia’s gains in Tigray

Walkouts put Macron on the spot

France’s notoriously strike-o-phile public sector unions called a nationwide walkout on Tuesday, demanding higher wages in response to high inflation. The move, which mainly affects public transport and trains, comes amid weeks-long strikes by workers at major oil companies and nuclear plants. Although inflation in France has softened compared to other Western European nations, the country is still seeing its fastest price increases since the mid-1980s. For President Emmanuel Macron, who was reelected in April, the strikes and protests are a taste of the troubles he may face in the coming months. His 2023 budget is caught in a parliamentary crossfire as MPs on the right and left try to cram in more spending and larger tax increases than Macron wants. Meanwhile, winter is fast approaching, with uncertain consequences for the French public’s energy bills – though the Parisian parkour set is doing its graceful best to address the problem every night. And Macron is still aiming to push through a major — and deeply unpopular — pension reform before next spring.

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