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Year in review: What happened in 2023 in France

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Year in review: What happened in 2023 in France
(Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

Pension protests, riots and political deadlock - but also a Playboy controversy, a dodgy sardine paté and the loss of France's best-loved Brit, Jane Birkin. Here's a look back at what happened in France in 2023.


January 2023

The year kicked off with the climate crisis in the headlines as a lack of snow forced nearly half of French ski resorts to close and the cancellation of prestigious ski events.

And one of France’s most famous items – the red stamp, or timbre rouge which guaranteed next-day delivery across the country – officially ceased to be back in January after La Poste ended its sale on January 1st.

February 2023

More weather news in February. French weather forecaster Météo France recorded 32 consecutive rain-free days – defined as a day when the average rainfall across France is less than 1mm – from January into February, the first time this has been seen since records began in 1959.


French comedian Pierre Palmade faced a manslaughter charge after causing a head-on collision while high on cocaine that injured two people and led a pregnant woman to lose her baby.

How opinions change - in 2003, France was terra non grata in parts of USA because of then-President Jacques Chirac’s vociferous and determined opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In February 2023, it was revealed a total 73 percent of US citizens have a good opinion of the country and its people, up from just 39 percent in 2007. Why? A certain TV show had something to do with it…

READ MORE The Emily Effect? Why more and more Americans want to move to France

March 2023

Protests had been going on for months by the time Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reforms reached the Assembly floor for a final reading – and then the government forced them through without a vote using controversial Article 49.3 legislation. What happened next was … entirely predictable. And it would go on for some time.

READ MORE Marches, strikes and no-confidence vote: How France reacted to Macron's pension reform move

It also gave rise to perhaps the most French video clip of all time . . . (and yes it's real).


In a first for France, women working with local authorities in Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine were permitted up to two days’ per month off for conditions linked to their menstrual cycles including period pain and endometriosis.

Further indication of the climate crisis was evident as the Canal du Midi remained closed to traffic three weeks later than scheduled because of drought fears. The canal closed again in October, earlier than scheduled, also because of drought.

April 2023

In April, EU figures showed that France had ordered 115 Britons to leave the country following Brexit – one of the lowest figures in the bloc.

France, we know, has a very different attitude towards protest than many other nations – and it was never more on show than when the mayor of Bordeaux floated the idea of putting the town hall’s doors, badly damaged when pension protesters set them on fire, in a museum, arguing that they are now part of history.

Meanwhile, French government minister Marlene Schiappa caused controversy when she agreed to pose – fully clothed – for the French version of Playboy magazine to accompany a 12-page interview on women’s and gay rights as well as abortion. She said it was ‘a feminist act’. Maybe her removal as a minister by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in a government reshuffle in July was also a feminist act.


May 2023

A law that banned domestic flights for journeys possible in less than two-and-a-half hours by train was published in a government decree in May, after a challenge by airlines at a EU level was rejected.

Tellingly, France’s football federation later announced its squads would travel by train for journeys of less than three hours. Paris-Saint-Germain football club had earlier in the year received a barrage of criticism for taking a private jet for short journeys.

Now, pay attention, because we published some very important news in May about French food, thanks to some intrepid journalism from our American colleague, Genevieve Mansfield, who knows about these things…

READ MORE France’s national fast food: What exactly are ‘French tacos’?

June 2023

Appointing an editor at a newspaper is not usually a newsworthy event. But the decision to give the hotseat at France’s only dedicated Sunday newspaper to a someone with links to far-right groups prompted headlines, and several weeks of strikes – and cast unaccustomed light onto the newspaper’s very conservative owner.

READ MORE: French newspaper 'stunned' as far-right editor named

The fatal shooting of a teenager by police in Paris’s suburbs provoked several nights of trouble across the country as anger spilled over into violence. Riots spread across the country over several nights - the most serious prolonged rioting that France has seen since 2005.


The unrest also propelled into the spotlight, yet again, the tense relationship between France's police and the inhabitants of its multi-racial suburbs.

Covid-19 screening in France reached an important milestone at the end of June – when the TousAntiCovid app was officially ‘put to sleep’. The anniversary largely passed without mention -  few people had consulted the app in months, and it sat dormant on many smartphones since France’s Covid-19 health pass requirement was suspended in March 2022.

July 2023

France’s little Briton, Jane Birkin, who became a star in her adopted country, died in July, at the age of 76, prompting an outpouring of tributes from the great and the good, and many newspaper front pages.

READ MORE Jane Birkin: The French star with the 'incomparable British accent'

There was also proof that the French do indeed find a British accent cute or even sexy (although maybe it also helps to be a gorgeous film star).

Paris, meanwhile, called a temporary halt to its war on polluting cars by delaying plans to ban older vehicles that display a Crit’Air 3 sticker – because the necessary infrastructure for enforcement is not ready, so they intend to delay the ban until January 1st 2025.

READ MORE: Is France really banning diesel vehicles from cities?

February 2024, however, will bring a Paris referendum on plans to charge SUV drivers more for parking.


August 2023

Remember summer? Phew, what a scorcher, as the historic headline ran. Joking aside, late summer in août sent the mercury soaring to record levels, with peaks ranging from 40C to 42C in some areas and a quarter of the country on red weather alert, and mayors warning people to stay off France’s highest mountain.

READ MORE: MAP: The highest temperatures recorded in France 

Meanwhile, a pair of American tourists were found sleeping off a heavy night in the heights of Paris's Eiffel Tower, after dodging security the night before… 

September 2023

Another month, more climate concerns. After hundreds of French communes were designated ‘natural disaster zones’ for drought, it was revealed that average temperatures for the whole of September, based on data from 30 of the weather stations across the country, found that temperatures were 3.6C higher than average seasonal norms, according to Météo France.

One person died and 10 other members of a group of mostly American and Canadian visitors were hospitalised in south-west France with rare food-borne botulism poisoning, linked to a wine bar in Bordeaux. The bar owner now faces criminal charges relating to the tainted sardine paté he served.


Britain’s King Charles III and Queen Camilla finally made their delayed State visit to France in September.  The rescheduled trip was intended to highlight the fundamentals of the cross-Channel alliance, despite a litany of political tensions after Brexit.

READ MORE: IN PICTURES: Charles III welcomed to France on first visit as king

October 2023

In early October, certain media tried to have you believe that France was under attack from a plague of bedbugs infesting public transport, cinemas, hotels and homes – but was the bedbug threat exaggerated? It seems it may have been (in fact, there's even evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign).

FACTCHECK: Is there really a 'plague' of bedbugs in France?

France raised its terror alert to the maximum level after a series of hoax threats prompted the evacuation of many airports, stations and tourist sites in October; while police shot and killed a woman at a Paris train station after she threatened to detonate a device. 

READ MORE Terror alerts: Should I be worried about travelling to France?

Right now, the south-western French town of Castres is the largest in France without direct access to the country’s motorway network. That odd little accolade should pass to another, smaller, town in 2025 - but the construction of the new A69 is not going entirely smoothly as police and protesters clash.

November 2023

There may have been a lack of snow in January, but the ski season at the end of 2023 got off to an early start with some resorts pushing up the start of the season thanks to heavy early snowfall

But, while the mountain resorts were making the most of winter’s early arrival, other parts of the country were counting the cost of the weather, as record-breaking rain battered France eventually leading to flooding in the north of the country.

There was good news, too, as the outline of the new spire on the Notre-Dame Cathedral graced the Paris skyline as a key part of the reconstruction from a devastating fire approached completion. The cathedral is due to reopen on December 8th, 2024.


2023 was a year that started in political turmoil (pensions) and it ended that was too - with the wild ride of the government's Immigration bill, which was defeated before debates even began in the Assemblée nationale, only to be resurrected, made a lot more right-wing and eventually passed just before Christmas, albeit in a format that may be slapped down by the powerful Constitutional Council. In brief - we aint seen the last of this one.

OPINION: Macronism hasn't failed, but the toughest test is yet to come

And the year drew to a close with travel chaos for many trying to make the trip between France and the UK as Eurostar was twice forced to cancel all its services. The first cancellations - on December 21st - were because of a surprise and very short strike by French employees of the Channel Tunnel, while the second - on December 30th - was because of flooding in a rail tunnel in the UK.


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