A week before Euro 2016: France struggles with floods, strikes

Just a week before the European football championship is set to begin, and the Eiffel Tower is barely visible through thick fog and torrents of rain.

The promenades along the Seine river in Paris are flooded by murky water. Tourists cower under hotel umbrellas and stomp between attractions with plastic ponchos clinging to their wet faces.

Rains, which have pounded France for days and led to floods, have barely let up. Thousands of people have been evacuated from areas around Paris, while many were left stranded by nationwide rail transport strikes.

If there is a suitable metaphor to represent the deluge of challenges France is facing leading up to the June 10-July 10 Euro 2016 football championship, it is becoming real just days before the tournament is set to begin. France is now truly flooded.

Even before the rains began, the regional tourism board of Paris warned that the number of visitors to France's capital has dropped since last year's terrorist attacks that shook the nation and the ensuing goverment-imposed state of emergency.

"A few days before the Euro 2016, whose success is supposed to show to the world our capacity to hold major events, it is time to save the tourist season by putting an end to these blockades that have been relayed to the entire world. It's the entirety of the leisure and tourism business that is penalized," says Frederic Valletoux, the tourism board's president.

Valletoux is referring to blockades at fuel depots that led to shortages at petrol stations, creating long lines of cars waiting for a chance to fill their tanks. The blockades, since dispersed, were part of a series of strikes and demonstrations that affected the country's ports, air traffic, rail transport and refinery production and saw people scuffle violently with police on the streets across France.

Many of those strikes have also not let up, and railway operators are still running far fewer connections than normal. Major left-leaning union CGT has pledged to ratchet up pressure ahead of the football championship, demanding the withdrawal of labour reforms.

At the same time, Europol chief Rob Wainwright and Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office have warned that the tournament could be a target for a terrorist attack from the Islamic State group. Last year, 130 people were killed in attacks in and around Paris, followed by strikes on Brussels international airport and an underground station earlier this year.

France's Interior Ministry has said that approximately 90,000 security-related personnel - including public and private agents, as well as medical responders and firefighters - will be mobilized to protect the games. "No one, and especially not the terrorists, will stop us from living a normal life," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said.

Cazeneuve has not been the only politician promising to ensure normalcy in the days leading up to the state of the tournament. Secretary of State for Transport Alain Vidalies said he hoped to reach agreements with unions before the start of the games.

"Frankly I could not imagine that these reasons and during this very special period, the railway workers would take the risk of bringing France to standstill.," Vidalies told France Info.

For all the efforts, though, there are some things that can't be controlled. Like the weather.

Last update: Fri, 03/06/2016 - 10:16
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