Europe’s Leaders Curtail Summer Holidays in Light of Crises – New York Times

Mr. Macron gave his cabinet ministers two weeks off along with instructions to remain within striking distance of Paris in case of emergency. They are apparently unaffected by a new law allowing workers to disconnect from work email when out of the office.

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Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain walking with her husband, Philip, in Desenzano del Garda, during their holiday in northern Italy.

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Pool photo by Antonio Calanni

Belying the image of a France that is shuttered for all of August, Mr. Macron is in fact largely following in the steps of his Socialist predecessor, François Hollande. The butt of bad press over his seaside vacation during a French economic downturn in 2012, Mr. Hollande started whittling down his holidays to about a week per summer.

And France is not the only wine country practicing summer sobriety. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, facing a daunting migration crisis that intensifies with the summer heat, has kept his government cooped up in August cabinet meetings and has held talks this week with Libyan envoys.

Officials in Mr. Gentiloni’s office said this week that he has several public appearances coming up, including one on Monday, the day before the national Ferragosto holiday, which almost everyone in Italy observes as the linchpin of a long, long weekend. Meanwhile, Italian news reports of infighting and maneuvering among ministers, including its workaholic interior minister, continue apace.

The Italian gossip magazines, filled during Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure with pictures of him donning bandannas in Sardinia, have had to content themselves with images of Mr. Berlusconi’s ex-wife in a boat and Mr. Berlusconi’s ex-minister of Equal Opportunities, a former Miss Italy, splashing on the beach with a politician.

In many ways, Rome is the spiritual center of Europe’s summer shutdown.

Public workers in Italy have 32 days off a year, according to the Ministry for Simplification and Public Administration. They can take off whenever they like, but many choose to escape the intense August heat.

As the city’s army of lawyers and bureaucrats deploys elsewhere, many government offices slow down. Coffee bars, gelaterias, cleaners, hardware stores and other small shops often cut their hours, too, or close entirely. Customer service slips into the abyss.

But even that is changing a bit. Denise Verdi, manager of a clothing store in Rome’s center, said she stayed open this season to cash in on visiting tourists when there was less competition.

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Italian lawmakers during a session in Rome last week.

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Angelo Carconi/European Pressphoto Agency

What Americans might consider a Protestant work ethic also extends now to the Vatican, where Pope Francis, unlike his predecessors, does not go on vacation.

Still, many northern leaders, deprived of sun for much of the year, are refusing to let political and economic challenges get in the way of their rest and recreation.

Prime Minister May, after a disappointing showing in Parliamentary elections in June, has exited the Brexit morass for three weeks in Switzerland and Italy, where she led a hotel lobby full of tourists in a rendition of “God Save the Queen.” (She rewarded her piano accompanist, Davide Foroni, with a pair of No10 cuff links, the Sun reported.)

David Davis, Ms. May’s secretary of state for Exiting the European Union, cited Parliament’s summer recess as explanation for his declining to answer questions before the Committee on Exiting the European Union. A spokesman for the committee, while allowing that it was unusual to meet during recess, told The Financial Times that given the high stakes, they “felt it was appropriate to continue their scrutiny.” (Mr. Davis’s office declined to discuss his summer plans.)

A spokeswoman for Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said at the end of July that Mr. Juncker had asked that officials involved in Brexit be “ready every day, throughout the coming weeks, throughout the month of August, to engage with our British counterparts.”

The president of the European Parliament nevertheless notified Mr. Juncker in a letter that the legislature would be gone fishing for much of the month.

Mr. Juncker himself headed off to vacation in Austria, where, he told Politico, his reading list includes a crime thriller “that talks about Trump, Clinton, Bush,” and “1913: The Year Before the Storm,” by Florian Illies, about the last year of peace before World War I.

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Tourists by the fountain of the Pantheon in Rome in August.

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Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whom few have ever accused of slacking off, is recharging during a three-week vacation in the Italian Alps. (Magazines have carried pictures of her in hiking boots.)

Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, a professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt, said it was “totally culturally accepted” that Ms. Merkel took a long break. An author of a recent study that showed Europeans work 14 percent fewer hours on average than Americans, in part because of vacation days, Professor Fuchs-Schündeln added, “It’s seen as completely natural and healthy that politicians go on vacation.”

Ms. Merkel’s Italian excursion may also be an astute political move. She is leading in opinion polls ahead of elections Sept. 24, and being away may help avoid potential missteps that could change that.

Politicians’ vacations and their discontents provide fodder for a perennial, and universal, summer story. President Trump’s insistence that his 17-day ensconcement at his New Jersey golf club is not actually a vacation has revived the trans-Atlantic debate over who is working hard and who is hardly working.

But what is an apparent cultural divide between the United States and its European allies is at least as much about the divergence of labor laws and traditions over the last 50 years: the strength of European unions, the disappearance of American pensions, and attitudes toward social mobility and productivity.

As recently as the early 1970s, European and American workers put in about the same number of hours. As of 2015, the typical French person worked at least 300 fewer hours per year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Labor scholars have suggested that a boom of American consumerism in the 1970s and 1980s required more hours of work. Others have noted that Europeans, who are heavily taxed, prioritized vacation over more income that would bring more taxes.

Also, there’s the weather.

“It’s hot and it’s less productive to work in this time of year,” said William Broussen, a 24-year-old Parisian contractor who is suffering through a heat wave called Lucifer on his Roman holiday. “We work all year. There is nothing bad about taking time off.”


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Europe’s Leaders Curtail Summer Holidays in Light of Crises – New York Times

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