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TRAVEL NEWS

Fears of ‘massive disruption’ of travel between France and UK in 2023

Travellers planning a trip between France and the UK in 2023 are likely to face 'massive disruption' caused by a combination of the EU's new digital visa system and the UK government's unwillingness to work in a constructive manner with French or EU leaders, a former British ambassador to France has warned.

Fears of 'massive disruption' of travel between France and UK in 2023
Increased time for passports checks could lead to delays at the French border. Photo by Iroz Gaizka / AFP

Lord Peter Ricketts, who was the British Ambassador to France between 2012 and 2016 and now sits in the House of Lords, said he fears that a combative start to Liz Truss’ premiership is likely to make travel problems worse next year.

The year 2023 marks the delayed launch of two new EU travel systems – the EES entry and exit system and the ETIAS tourist visa system – both of which are likely to increase the time it takes to check passports at the border.

Lord Rickets said: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports and there is simply no goodwill on a political level between France and the UK to solve these problems.

“We saw this at the start of the summer with the problems at Dover, there was no doubt blame on both sides but it really comes down to the fact that passport checks take longer since Brexit and there is no point blaming France for that.

“When you have these problems it all depends on goodwill from both sides to resolve them, and it seems that is in short supply between France and the UK.”

The EES system – scheduled to come into force in May 2023 – is a way of keeping track of visitors within the EU and will apply at all external Schengen borders, while ETIAS – scheduled for November 2023 – is a €7 travel visa for tourists. 

You can find a full explanation of what it all means HERE.

While the EES system mean a few seconds of extra time on passport scanning at airports and Eurostar, it is expected to be particularly disruptive at ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel because the plans – as envisaged by the EU at this stage – mean that groups travelling in cars would have to get out of the car to have their passports scanned and provide facial scans and fingerprints.

This would massively increase the time it takes to process each car and could lead to more long tailbacks at UK ports like Dover and Folkestone.

Making the problem yet worse is the extremely tense state of UK-France relationships, which show no sign of thawing under the UK’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Lord Ricketts: “The relationship between the UK and France is pretty bad and I see no signs that it will improve.

“Liz Truss’ comment about Emmanuel Macron, refusing to say whether he was friend or foe, was pretty shocking. It was a ridiculous thing to say, of course France is a friend, and Macron’s response I thought was elegant.

“But it’s also her complete inability to say anything positive about the EU that has definitely been noted across Europe and it seems likely that we are heading for a confrontation between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“And of course these things all filter down to the daily co-operation that is needed between countries.

“I’d say on a personal level co-operation between France and the UK is good, every day there is co-operation between border forces, military, businesses, but on a political level it is not good.”

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STRIKES

France’s pension strikes: What to expect on January 31st

The final day of January marks the second - and almost certainly not the last - day of mass strike action in the ongoing battle between the French government and unions over pension reform. Here's what to expect on January 31st.

France's pension strikes: What to expect on January 31st

Unions have promised the ‘mother of all battles’ against Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the French pension system, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

5 minutes to understand French pension reform

However, the action for the moment is mostly concentrated into a series of one-day actions, with the first taking place on January 19th.

The next ‘mass mobilisation’ is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31st. It is supported by all eight French trades union federations, which means that support is likely to be high and disruption severe on certain services.

Workers in essential services such as transport must declare their intention to strike 48 hours in advance, allowing transport operators to produce strike timetables, which are usually released 24 hours in advance. We will update this story as new information is released.

Trains

Rail unions are strongly backing the action – on January 19th, 46 percent of all rail workers walked out, and unions say they expect a similar level of support on January 31st. This would likely lead to a similar level of disruption with around half of high-speed TGV trains cancelled and 9 out of 10 of local TER services. 

International services including Eurostar could also see cancellations or a revised timetable. 

City public transport

Workers on Paris’ RATP network also saw high levels of support for the previous strike – with most Metro lines running rush-hour-only services and some closed altogether, while buses ran a severely limited service. The full details of exactly what will be running will be revealed on Monday evening by RATP.

Other cities including Nice, Lyon and Nantes will likely see a repeat of severely disrupted bus, tram and Metro services.

Schools

The major teaching unions have called for another 24-hour walkout, so some schools are likely to close. The January 19th action saw roughly half of teachers across France walk out.

Ski lifts

The two unions that represent more than 90 percent of workers in ski resorts have called an ‘unlimited’ strike beginning on January 31st. So far Tuesday is the only confirmed strike day, but others could be announced. Strikes in ski resorts generally mainly affect the operation of ski lifts.

Petrol stations

The hardline CGT union has announced extra strike dates for workers at oil refineries, and also threatened blockades. This can result in shortages at petrol stations as supplies of petrol and diesel are blocked from leaving the refineries and reaching filling stations.

Power cuts 

CGT members working in the state electricity sector have also threatened more ‘direct action’ including power cuts to selected towns. This is not a legitimate strike tactic – in fact France’s labour minister says it is “a criminal offence” and will be punished accordingly – but it could happen nevertheless.

On January 19th two towns – one in the greater Paris region and one in northern France – lost power for a couple of hours in what was described as a deliberate cut. The union says it intends to target towns that elected MPs who support the pension reform.

Demos

January 31st will also see another day of marches and demonstrations in towns and cities around France. On January 19th more than 1 million people took to the streets and unions will be hoping for a similar turnout on January 31st. One striking feature of the demos on January 19th was the comparatively large turnout in smaller French towns that usually do not see large demos.

Other strike dates

The above information relates to January 31st only, and services before and after this date are expected to run as normal.

Some unions, however, have declared ‘unlimited’ strikes, so there could be disruptions on these services on other days – these include ski lift operators, truck drivers and oil refinery workers.

It is highly likely that further one-day or multi-day strikes will be announced for February and March, as the pension reform bill comes before parliament, you can keep up to date with out strike calendar HERE.

We will update this article as more information becomes available, and you can also keep up with the latest in our strike section HERE.

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