French economic reform sparks fears of 'baguette crisis'
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French government attempts to spur economic growth by easing restrictions on the labour market have prompted fevered media speculation that France could be facing an imminent baguette shortage.
For more than two centuries, the summer holiday time taken by bakers has been strictly regulated by local authorities to ensure that each district of the capital had a functioning patisserie to provide Parisians with the staff of life.
But that policy has changed under the so-called Macron law ̶ named for reformist Economy Minister Emannuel Macron ̶ which will now allow the city’s bakers to take time off whenever they like in July and August.
A law passed in the wake of the French Revolution required bakeries, or boulangeries, to report when they planned to take a summer holiday with local authorities. Bakers who closed were also required to place a notice in their windows telling would-be clients where the nearest open bakery was located.
Those who didn't follow the rules were fined, which in previous years meant around 20 to 30 bakeries annually, although fines usually amounted to only between €11 and €33, according to The Local.
But now, local bakeries are able to close their doors without notice any time they like.
“Parisians are in a grotesque situation,” food blogger Rémi Héluin told the Financial Times (FT). “Many of the artisanal bakers have decided to close at the same time, and there has been a total lack of co-ordination.”
Héluin estimates that about two-thirds of bakers are closed this August, compared with only half in previous years.
French bakeries have traditionally been closely regulated ̶ the price of bread was fixed by the government until 1986. A 1998 law requires that those businesses seeking to qualify as a boulangerie must knead and bake their dough on the premises.
The change is part of a wider government push to liberalise France’s often onerous rules on businesses, such as making it easier to hire and fire employees. Laws prohibiting stores from opening on Sundays are also being rolled back, albeit mostly in areas popular with tourists.
Some bakers are planning to make the most of the situation, perhaps cashing in while others check out.
“For us it’s a plus,” said Arnand Anita, the manager of A La Flûte Enchantée, which is not planning to close at all this summer. “We will bring in customers and hopefully keep them,” Anita told the FT.
But many Parisians feel the fevered media speculation about an imminent "baguette crisis" ̶ as it was dubbed by Britain's Daily Mail ̶ has been overblown.
Even if the local boulangère is basking on a beach somewhere, modern French supermarkets often have a baker's corner offering fresh-baked bread to go.