Fear of globalisation at heart of CPE protests

23rd March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 22, 2006 (AFP) - The anger in France over the government's youth jobs plan is fed by a widespread suspicion of globalisation and disappointment at Europe's failure to temper its effects, analysts said Wednesday.

PARIS, March 22, 2006 (AFP) - The anger in France over the government's youth jobs plan is fed by a widespread suspicion of globalisation and disappointment at Europe's failure to temper its effects, analysts said Wednesday.

For the hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the First Employment Contract (CPE), the argument presented by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin that it is part of an inevitable process of adaptation to the real world of work is not acceptable, they said.

For these people the word 'flexibility' is a trap, which is used to justify — in the name of the fight against unemployment — ever greater insecurity for employees, even as the big French multinationals like Total and LVMH enjoy record profits.

"There is something particular about the relation between France and globalisation which is explained by its having an economic, political and social history which is more focussed than anywhere else in the world on the state," said political scientist Dominique Reynie. "The French have a deep-seated resistance to any change in their economic model."

Over the last 25 years historians and economists say two key decisions were taken that kept France within the world mainstream when it risked going it alone.

The first was in 1983 when socialist president François Mitterrand adopted a series of austerity measures to keep France inside the European exchange rate mechanism two years after his election on a radical left-wing platform.

The second was the referendum in 1992 on the Maastricht treaty, which was won by a whisker by the 'yes' side and allowed France to join the single currency.

Though they came to be seen as inevitable, these two events were regarded by many as an abandonment of national prerogatives.

"For more than 20 years the French have been told that they have no choice, they must adapt and tighten their belts. But at the end of the day there has been no improvement in the economic situation," said Xavier Timbaud, an economist at the French Observatory of Economic Conditions.

This collective disillusionment partly explains last year's rejection of the EU's proposed constitution as well as the mobilisation today against the CPE — a contract for under 26 year-olds than can be terminated without explanation in the first two years.

For Jacques Capdevielle, of the Centre for Studies of French Political Life, the growing discredit of the French governing class has been matched by a sharp downturn in union membership — a combination of factors "that has allowed the anti-globalisation movement to flourish."

But Capdevielle said the so-called "French exception" has to be kept in perspective "because no European country is happy about the surrender of hard-won social rights."

"France stands out once again because of the protests, but it is not the only country in Europe to experience this," said Jean-Dominique Guiliani, of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris, who cited recent strikes in Germany.

For Guiliani, the crisis in France is an illustration of the EU's inability to become an economic power capable of responding to the challenge of globalisation.

EU countries "seem incapable of adapting quickly to the world economy" in order to encourage growth and job-creation, he said. The only solution is a "new European economic policy which member states will have to agree on."

With the creation of the euro, member states lost their monetary power but no supra-national European state has taken up the baton, said Timbaud.

"Because governments no longer have the capacity to influence economic growth, all they can do is share out the unemployment — and that creates resentment everywhere," he said.

With one French particularity: "the ease with which it can bring a million people onto the streets," said Timbaud.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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