Villepin, Sarkozy diverge on solutions to CPE crisis

28th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 28, 2006 (AFP) - Tensions deepened inside France's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party Tuesday after Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's methods for introducing a controversial youth jobs law were contested by his powerful number two, Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, March 28, 2006 (AFP) - Tensions deepened inside France's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party Tuesday after Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's methods for introducing a controversial youth jobs law were contested by his powerful number two, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Speaking in the northern town of Douai Monday evening, Sarkozy — who is interior minister as well as UMP president — implicitly criticised Villepin for failing to consult with unions and employers before drawing up the First Employment Contract (CPE), which has sparked three weeks of street protests.

"For change to succeed, there has to be social dialogue. Social dialogue is an essential precondition for the success of any reform," Sarkozy said.

"We must rediscover the spirit of compromise, in which each side takes a step towards the other in order to build a more just society.... No government texts on social issues that have not been the subject of prior consultation, and no blockages and ultimatums by unions," he said.

Speaking before UMP deputies Tuesday Sarkozy recommended a period of "non-application (of the CPE) pending negotiations between the social partners to search for a compromise."

Villepin — widely regarded as Sarkozy's rival ahead of next year's presidential election — has refused to withdraw the CPE, instead offering "adjustments" outside the framework of the law.

Commentators said Sarkozy was treading a careful path, officially expressing solidarity with the prime minister but trying to limit the damage from the campaign of worker-student protests to his own political ambitions.

"As a presidential candidate (Sarkozy) does not want to be carried down with the rest of the right in the storm over the CPE.... But he cannot take his criticism beyond these repeated appeals for compromise or he could face accusations of betrayal of his own party," said Le Figaro newspaper.

Villepin has been comforted by opinion polls that show that even if two-thirds of the French oppose the CPE, some 74 percent of UMP voters believe he should stick to his guns.

For the two leaders it was an ironic reversal of roles, as Villepin was until recently cast as the socially conscious gradualist reformer, and Sarkozy as a supporter of a clean break — 'la rupture' — with France's economic model.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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