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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Is it time to scrap May 8 as a public holiday in France?

It's a question that is asked by some every year, especially in May when the number of public holidays can come thick and fast.

All right 2013 is perhaps exceptional.

May 1 (Fête du travail) and 8 (Victory in Europe Day) both fell on a Wednesday.

And the two "floating" holidays Ascension Day and lundi de Pentecôte (40 and 51 days respectively after Easter) both take place in May - 9 and 20.

Sure it's nice to "faire le pont" as many (but not all) French are doing right now by taking an extra day off and having in effect a five-day weekend.

But can a country really have so many holidays in one supposedly working month and support a total of 11 public holidays a year especially when it's going through an economic crisis.

Does it make sense?

Poland's president, Bronislaw Komorowski, and France's president, François Hollande, in Paris to mark the 68th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (screenshot Euronews)


Hervé Lambel, president of  Créateurs d'Emplois et de Richesses de France (Cerf) certainly doesn't think so.

"Companies still have the same wage costs even in a month during which there are four public holidays,' he said.

"In total we're talking about 0.1 percentage point of GDP each year, spread across the 11 public holidays. That amounts to around €2 billion that's not being generated by the economy. It threatens business and doesn't make sense."

Lambel's argument cuts no ice with employment minister Michel Sapin.

"What are we supposed to do? Get rid of May 1, May 8 or May 9? he said on Europe 1 radio.

"Let's be reasonable, public holidays are there for people to rest, so they can work even harder afterwards."

And he's backed up by Insee studies which suggest that the economic impact is negligible and counterbalanced to a certain extent by the boost given to the tourist industry.

That's the economic side of things. But what about the historic significance?

After all May 8 is Victory in Europe Day to mark the date "when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich" which ended the war in Europe.

For Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National all of France's public holidays - including May 8 - are of historic or religious importance.

"French workers are among the most productive in the world," she told France 2.

"We have a history and our roots are in a Christianity which built France," she continued.

"Getting rid of any public holiday is most definitely not the right path to take."

But wait. May 8 has something of a checkered history as a public holiday.

Although it had earlier been recognised as a "day of celebration", it first officially became a public holiday, actually taking place on May 8, in 1953.

In 1958 Charles de Gaulle reduced its status to that of a "commemorative day" by making it the second Sunday in May.

It was restored to May 8 in 1968 without being reinstated as a public holiday.

And in 1975 another former president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, abolished its status altogether in the name of Franco-German reconciliation.

It wasn't until 1981, under his successor François Mitterrand, the man who had been minister of veterans affairs when May 8 had first been recognised as a "day of celebration" that it once again became a public holiday - and on the right day.

So what do you think?

Should May 8 be kept as a public holiday in France?


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