Chirac tries to take both sides with CPE law

31st March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 1, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac offered an elaborate compromise to defuse three weeks of angry protests over a youth jobs contract Friday, telling the nation he will ratify the controversial measure but promising immediate modifications in a new law.

PARIS, April 1, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac offered an elaborate compromise to defuse three weeks of angry protests over a youth jobs contract Friday, telling the nation he will ratify the controversial measure but promising immediate modifications in a new law.

In a solemn address carried live from the Elysée palace on television and radio, Chirac said he had decided to promulgate the law because it had been voted through parliament and because "I believe the First Employment Contract (CPE) can be an effective tool for employment."

But he said he had also heard the "anxieties being expressed by many young people and their parents" over the contract, which allows employers to fire under 26 year-olds during a two year trial period without explanation.

"That is why I have asked the government to immediately prepare two modifications to the law on the points which have been at the heart of the debate.

"The (trial) period of two years shall be reduced to one year. And if the contract is broken, the right of the young worker to know the reasons shall be written into the new law," he said.

Chirac said he would ask Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin — who fathered the CPE — to take steps to ensure that "in practice no contract can be signed that does not fully include these modifications."

France has been plunged into a long period of turbulence by the youth jobs row, with millions taking to the streets in protests that have on several occasions descended into violence. Many universities have been closed for nearly a month, with growing tensions between pro- and anti-strike students.

While Villepin says the CPE is a vital tool for cutting youth unemployment — which is more than 50 percent in areas hit by last year's riots — opponents say it will erode hard-won labour rights and make it more difficult than ever for young people to find long-term jobs.

Commentators said the president was walking a political tightrope, caught between loyalty to Villepin — with whom he has a close personal relationship — and fears that the campaign of protest could spiral out of control, possibly reigniting the riots in the country's high-immigration suburbs.

But reaction to his complex solution from unions, student groups and left-wing politicians was immediately scathing and the opposition alliance — which had been urging Chirac not to promulgate the law — promised to maintain a new day of protests for Tuesday.

"The president has understood nothing. His initiative is incomprehensible. On the one hand he says the law must be applied. And on the other he wants another law to modify the one we've just adopted. It's worthy of a banana republic," said Jean-Louis Walter of the CFE-CGC union.

"It is an utterly bizarre and incomprehensible construct whose sole aim is to reconcile the insistence of the prime minister with the rejection of the French people," said Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the Socialist party (PS) bloc in the National Assembly.

François Bayrou, who heads the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) party, said it was "the first time in history as far as I am aware that a law is promulgated and then not enacted. To escape the crisis, we run the risk of ridicule. I hope we do not end up with both."

But Nicolas Sarkozy — the powerful interior minister and ruling party chief who is Villepin's rival ahead of next year's presidential race — said Chirac had taken a "wise decision" and he promised to help in the drafting of the new law.

Chirac's address was booed in the Place de la Bastille and other squares of Paris, where thousands of protesters gathered in the evening chanting slogans such as "Chirac resign!" and "Chirac piss off, the street rules!"

The protests were mainly peaceful although some youths threw bottles at police, upturned rubbish bins and smashed windows as they marched through the streets.

Thousands more protesters, mainly students, gathered in main squares across the country. Some erected barricades and smashed windows but no major violence was reported.

In the western city of Nantes police tear-gassed about 300 protestors who tried to march on the offices of the ruling UMP party after setting fire to rubbish bins and erecting makeshift barricades in the city centre.

The CPE is part of a wider equal opportunities law that was drawn up after the November riots and voted through parliament two weeks ago. On Thursday it passed it last legal hurdle when the Constitutional Council — which vets new laws — said it conforms with the 1958 constitution.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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