Sarkozy making the most of CPE debacle

3rd April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 3, 2006 (AFP) - The crisis over France's botched youth jobs reform has prompted an important power-shift in the French government, with a discredited Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin eclipsed by his powerful rival Nicolas Sarkozy, commentators said Monday.

PARIS, April 3, 2006 (AFP) - The crisis over France's botched youth jobs reform has prompted an important power-shift in the French government, with a discredited Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin eclipsed by his powerful rival Nicolas Sarkozy, commentators said Monday.

The massive wave of protests against the First Employment Contract (CPE) has been directly primarily at the 52 year-old prime minister, who single-handedly conceived the idea in January and then railroaded it through parliament.

After President Jacques Chirac's elaborate compromise offer on Friday — to ratify the contract but suspend it while the most contested points are amended — Villepin remains in office, and can claim he has not surrendered on his key objective which was to see the CPE into law.

In a sign of his continuing resolve, on Monday morning he chaired a meeting of cabinet ministers to discuss the government's programme for the coming months.

But if appearances have been saved, the consensus among opinion-makers Monday was that the prime minister's authority has taken a severe dent — especially as it is clear that day-to-day handling of the CPE crisis has now been given over to his ambitious number two, Sarkozy.

The interior minister has already been in touch over the weekend with unions and student groups in a bid to defuse the month of mounting opposition.

Critical both of the CPE itself — he favours a general reform of the labour code — and of the lack of consultation that preceded its passage into law, Sarkozy, 51, can play the role of disinterested third party, anxious to apply the balm of negotiation and detente.

Moreover it is supporters of Sarkozy in the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) who will draw up the new law to supersede the CPE. Many in the party have made clear they regard the contract as a dead letter, and may put up little fight to defend it.

"Mr. de Villepin has been punished for his intransigence by being quite simply taken off the case. Outwardly he may have won because the law is promulgated, but in reality he is the loser," said Le Monde newspaper.

With presidential elections looming in just over a year, the fall-out from the crisis could be decisive because few now give Villepin much hope of resurrecting his career in time. It thus becomes more likely than ever that Sarkozy, who runs the UMP, will be the man to lead the centre-right into the election.

But if the UMP chief can claim a tactical victory in his dogged pursuit of power, that may be to underestimate the damage that the CPE crisis has done to the government, the centre-right in general and indeed to the whole of French politics, commentators said.

Newspapers of left and right described Chirac's complex effort to dig the government out of its hole as "preposterous", "surrealist" or "like a three card trick", and said the gap separating the public from their elected politicians could only widen at the sight of such political contortions.

"When a president promulgates a law while at the same time asking for it not be applied, when a prime minister stays in his post but is shorn of all powers to end the crisis, it is clear something abnormal is going on," said Les Echos financial daily.

Some newspapers echoed accusations made by the opposition Socialist Party (PS) that powers are shifting from the government to a political party — Sarkozy's UMP — which they said is constitutionally questionable, and others lamented the prospects of Chirac's last year in office.

"The president is on paper the most powerful leader in Europe. But here he is caught in a tug-of-war between his two putative successors forced to knock up impromptu solutions for crises he is unable to stop happening. What a disastrous 'fin de regne'" said Le Monde.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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