Villepin maiden speech to focus on unemployment

8th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 8 (AFP) - In his first major speech as France's prime minister, Dominique de Villepin was to put unemployment at the top of his government's priorities Wednesday in a bid to win back a disenchanted public that torpedoed President Jacques Chirac's drive for an EU constitution.

PARIS, June 8 (AFP) - In his first major speech as France's prime minister, Dominique de Villepin was to put unemployment at the top of his government's priorities Wednesday in a bid to win back a disenchanted public that torpedoed President Jacques Chirac's drive for an EU constitution.  

Villepin, a 51-year-old former foreign minister who gained international prominence for his eloquent opposition to the US-led war against Iraq, was to outline his government's two-year plan to parliament.  

He was named to the job a week ago, two days after voters rejected the May 29 referendum on adopting the EU charter.  

But polls show Chirac's popularity is at an all-time low, with only between 24 and 26 percent of the public supporting him, and there is little confidence either that Villepin will be able to turn things around.  

Most "no" voters in the referendum said their main anxiety is the 10.2 percent jobless rate - a chronic social ailment that Chirac has repeatedly vowed to tackle during his 10-year rule.  

The French president, worried about the outcome of 2007 elections that will determine both the next parliament and next head of state, has again promised to turn his government's focus on joblessness as proof that he has "heard" the message sent by the electorate.  

"He is paying for the failure of the referendum," the newspaper Le Parisien said, commenting on the poll findings, noting that his score looks set to fall even further in a new survey due out.  

"Everbyody now understands that he won't be running (for re-election) in 2007," it quoted the head of the CSA polling institute, Roland Cayrol, as saying.  

A CSA survey published by the daily Wednesday showed that 65 percent of the French were pessimistic about the political situation over the next six months, and 79 percent did not believe Villepin's government would be up to the task of beating back joblessness within the next three months.  

Seventy-two percent of the 1,000 adults questioned earlier this week thought it certain or probable that massive strikes were likely in the coming months.  

Villepin has publicly given himself a deadline of 100 days - by early September - to restore public confidence, and has promised that decisions to boost employment will be taken "before the summer".  

Among the ideas being mooted are a reduction in the social charges paid by employers, a new work contract for small businesses, and more training for job-seekers, according to newspaper reports.  

But a poll by the IPSOS firm published Tuesday showed that half of France's small to medium size businesses did not envisage hiring extra staff in the next few months.  

Some voices in the cabinet, led by Villepin's powerful number two Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Finance Minister Thierry Breton, are also calling for a more radical redrafting of the country's labour code to make it easier for companies to hire and fire - a red flag to France's powerful unions, if enacted.  

"The French want results fast," the parliamentary speaker, Jean-Louis Debre, told France 2 television. "We don't have any more time left."

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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