International press critical of French protests

29th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 29, 2006 (AFP) - A pampered, creaking society, students who refuse to face reality and a crippling political split: newspaper commentators judged France with harsh words Wednesday after a huge wave of protests against a government jobs law.

PARIS, March 29, 2006 (AFP) - A pampered, creaking society, students who refuse to face reality and a crippling political split: newspaper commentators judged France with harsh words Wednesday after a huge wave of protests against a government jobs law.

More than a million people -- up to two million according to one union -- demonstrated Tuesday in towns and cities across France and joined a nationwide strike calling for the repeal of the law.

But the protests caused incomprehension rather than understanding, despair rather than hope, in the bulk of the European and US press.

What started as a simple dispute, wrote Germany's centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung, "is now a government crisis, and if it continues like that France is going to suffer a state crisis.

"The country is no longer governable, certainly not by the Chirac-Villepin tandem," it added, in a reference to President Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister who brought in the law.

The measure, known as the CPE, is designed by the government to encourage companies to hire more young people but critics say it increases insecurity by making it easier to fire them up to two years later without having to explain why.

The German conservative Die Welt could not understand why students were not grateful for a measure it said would ease access onto the job market, and were "protesting because they are not offered the security guarantees that for them are a treat they have long become used to."

For many commentators, French society was simply refusing to adapt to the demands of globalisation.

Spain's centre-left El Pais saw the CPE protests as "a spark that has lit a fire fuelled by frustrated citizens who are opposed to all change and want to preserve for ever a social model in need of profound reform."

The conservative ABC said French society was "obsessed about preserving its own well-being," and El Mundo saw no leader "capable of convincing the French that they too are going to have to change and update their numbed, inefficient social machinery."

In a commentary from Brussels, from where he covers European issues, David Rennie of Britain's Daily Telegraph said young people in France were looking backwards in a changing world.

"The students want to turn back the clock to the France of their parents, their grandparents ... This is militant, car-burning nostalgia ... I am not used to living in a place where the future feels like decline," he wrote.

Norway's Aftenposten saw a paradox between French despair at a future that offered few opportunities, and their willingness to protest against a measure it said would ease their entry onto the job market.

It also highlighted a generation gap between the government and people.

"The fact that President Jacques Chirac, 73, has ruled for 11 years and will stay in power until May 2007 also contributes to a climate where confrontation has unfortunately taken precedence over compromise."

For Italy's centre-left La Repubblica newspaper, "it was as if the CPE had crystallised all the woes of the French, who over the last few years have sent repeated signals to their political leadership without ever obtaining a proper response."

Most commentators said Villepin was badly isolated, lacking support from Chirac and under thinly-veiled attack from Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, his ambitious rival for the presidency next year.

Britain's Times predicted Chirac would keep a reasonably low profile until after the new job law has been considered by France's constitutional court on Thursday.

Geneva's Le Temps daily saw Villepin's refusal to withdraw the measure as a "swansong" and doubted the CPE would survive "the day the street triumphed."

Italy's La Repubblica however pointed out that if Villepin succeeded where his predecessors had failed, "he would become the hero of a silent electorate hitherto devoted to his rival Nicolas Sarkozy."

Commentators in the International Herald Tribune, published in Paris, spoke of a "baffling French rite of spring," while John Tierney in the New York Times said the measures in the new law were a fact of life in healthy economies.

"Someone needs to rescue France from its self-proclaimed malaise," Tierney wrote. "Close to a quarter of its young people are unemployed, but they're too busy burning cars to look for jobs."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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