Europe News

French demonstrators plan to disrupt Euro 2016 soccer tournament

Jessica Hartogs, Special to

French strikers have set their sights on a new target, threatening to paralyze the country when it hosts the 2016 UEFA European Championship soccer tournament next month.

Students and union workers alike have been demonstrating for weeks now against labor reform laws passed by decree by the French government.

The laws are set to change France's infamous 35-hour week, as well as make it easier for employers to hire and fire employees. French President Francois Hollande's government hopes this will encourage more long-term employment.

Currently, the majority of new French private-sector jobs are on short-term contracts that many blame France's unemployment rate on, which stands at an 18-year high of more than 10.2 percent with almost one-in-four under-25s unemployed, according to the European statistics service Eurostat.

Protests against the reforms once again turned violent on Thursday – with demonstrators clashing against police in several French cities. Union workers halted their work at oil refineries across the country, as well as at nuclear power plants, train stations and airports.

All of France's refineries shut down due to strikes: Reports

According to the latest French media reports, the union behind Paris' transport system - SUD-RATP - is planning to disrupt one of soccer's most important international tournaments, which opens in the capital on June 10 and lasts for a month.

The 24 countries participating will be playing 51 games across the country.

In total, over 3 percent of France's workforce are union members. Another union, the CGT - the General Confederation of Labor - behind the majority of the protests, is one of the largest in the country with over 700,000 members. It has also organized another crippling "day of action" strike next week – which is also set to shut down airports for three days as air traffic controllers will allegedly be participating.

The government has already greatly watered down its proposed changes but Prime Minister Manuel Valls is rejecting calls to remove a section of the new law. This potential change would allow companies to opt out of national obligations on labor protection, if they adopt in-house salary deals with the consent of employees.

French media reported Valls as saying to parliament: "The CGT does not rule this country. We will not withdraw the reforms."

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