France offers more aid for bar owners as anger grows over closures

The French government has unveiled extra measures to help bar and restaurant owners as anger grows over closures.

France offers more aid for bar owners as anger grows over closures
"Stop the dictatorship" reads the sign over one of the few restaurants in Marseille that did not comply with the government's new rules an declined to shut down on Monday. Photo: AFP

Under the latest Covid-19 health restrictions, bars in 11 French cities – including Paris – have been ordered to close at 10pm while in Marseille all bars and restaurants must close altogether for two weeks.

This has sparked protests from bar owners in Marseille, while one of France's best known chefs has called for a national demonstration on Friday to express the anger of the industry.

“We need to make some noise, show that we are there, that we are dying,” said Philippe Etchebest, a restaurant owner in Bordeaux, best known as a judge in the popular TV show Top Chef France.

After receiving a delegation from the hospitality industry on Tuesday morning, the French government has now announced extra help for the sector, already reeling under the impact of the two-month closure during lockdown.


Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has announced that the furlough scheme known as chomage partiel (partial unemployment) would be made fully available for all hospitality businesses until December 31st.

Whereas the rest of French businesses may access a pared-down version of the scheme, bar and restaurant owners will, along with the tourism sector, be able to get their employees salaries covered with 100 percent backing from the state.

“This will allow us to preserve jobs and the employees of this sector,” the economy minister said.

Le Maire also reiterated a previous promise to increase and extend the “solidarity fund” available to businesses which suffered big economic losses during the lockdown, which now will provide grants for all bars and restaurants whose incomes were slashed during this period of closures.

The fund, previously at €1,500 per month maximum, would be bumped up to €10,000 (the total amount a business receives will depend on their losses), the minister said.

“This sum will be available [to owners] over the course of October,” Le Maire told French press.

In addition to the help schemes, all establishments concerned by he new rules that saw their incomes disappear this period would “not have to pay social charges” on their employees' wages, Le Maire said. He did not provide further details on exactly how much income had to be lost in order to benefit from this measure.

To date there has not yet been a reaction from sector on whether the new measures were sufficient to call off Friday's protest action.

Etchebest had called all restaurant and bar owners and their employees to “gather in front of their establishments with a black armband” on Friday at 11.45am, just before lunch, to show that they were “drowning” economically speaking.

Etchebest, who was a guest at France Info’s evening show Les Informées on Monday, was speaking from his wine bar in Bordeaux, one of the 11 cities considered at a “heightened risk” by the French government, which means all bars must close their doors at 10pm the latest for a period of two weeks.

Restaurants in these areas can stay open later.

In Marseille, the city currently suffering the most in France from high Covid-19 rates and increased pressure on hospitals, both restaurants and bars had to close down completely for at least one week as of midnight on Sunday.

The government has said it will extend the period if the situation does not improve in the seven coming days.

Etchebest said the protest action would be in solidarity with restaurants and bars in Marseille and bars in all the 11 other cities concerned by the new rules.

Reeling sector

Health Minister Olivier Véran announced the new rules on Wednesday evening in a live speech to where he said swift action had to be taken to halt the deteriorating situation across the country.

But the new rules stirred up a deep-set discontent in the sector that predated last week's announcements.

France’s restaurants and bars were among the businesses who suffered the most from the two months of strict nationwide lockdown this spring. 

Prior to that, they saw their incomes drop during first the “yellow vest” protests every weekend –  especially in Paris where the biggest and most violent protests were held – and then during the transport strike movement, which saw their customer numbers plunge in December 2019 and January 2020.

Etchebest, who has spoken up several times about the sector's sufferings since lockdown, said he predicted “30 percent [of the sector] to go bankrupt” by the end of the year.



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France warns winter gas cuts possible

The French government warned Wednesday that companies might have to reduce energy use this winter even with the country's natural gas reserves at full capacity, as Russia continues to reduce its gas exports to Europe.

France warns winter gas cuts possible

“The main players, government agencies and businesses, must reduce their consumption” of gas as well as electricity, because “the two systems are linked,” Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told CNews television.

Moscow has slashed its exports to Europe in response to punishing Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, forcing countries to scramble for alternatives.

Even though France is less reliant on Russian supplies than other EU countries, generating around three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power plants, its industrial sector still relies on gas and millions of people use it to heat their homes.

Winter shortfalls will be a risk even though France is racing to top up its gas reserves.

“Right now our strategic gas reserves are at 80 percent capacity… which means we will reach our goal of 100 percent before November 1,” Pannier-Runacher said.

But she later insisted on RMC radio that full stocks might not be enough to avoid gas cuts as the government seeks alternative sources.

“It’s not so simple… We might have a particularly cold day and because of the size of the pipelines, we can’t pump all of the gas we have,” she said.

And France is also facing a winter with fewer of its nuclear plants online because of either maintenance or safety concerns, meaning that electricity supplies could be strained.

“We are counting on solidarity, notably with Germany, to import electricity,” she said. “And we need to support Germany with the gas we import via our liquefied natural gas terminals.”