Villepin vows to uphold his jobs plan in face of protests

13th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 12, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed Sunday to implement a contested youth jobs contract, despite a growing movement of opposition.

PARIS, March 12, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed Sunday to implement a contested youth jobs contract, despite a growing movement of opposition.

"The law which has been voted... will be put into effect," Villepin told the main evening news programme on TF1 televison.

But the prime minister said new guarantees could be applied to reassure those who fear the First Employment Contract (CPE) will make it harder for the young to find long-term employment.

A key part of Villepin's strategy to bring down youth unemployment, the CPE is a two-year contract for under 26-year-olds that can be broken off by employers without fear of legal recourse.

Opponents — including students, unions and the left-wing political parties — staged a day of protest last Tuesday, which was followed by university sit-ins and strikes.

Villepin said the contract was an essential tool to fight joblessness among the young, which can rise to 50 percent in high-immigration suburbs hit by November's riots.

"What do we do to address this job insecurity? Do we fold our arms and lower our eyes? Or do we try to address the problem?" he said.

The prime minister said the CPE was already accompanied by government commitments to improve access for contractees to bank accounts and housing, a key concern of young people.

These would be complemented by new guarantees on salary levels and training, he said.

"There are a lot of misunderstandings. There is a lot of confusion. There is a lot of misapprehension. People say to me: why bother trying to sort out the problems of the young? It is always very sensitive and there is always a risk of misunderstandings leading to disturbances.

"But as head of government can I seriously not take account of this situation of insecurity for young people, which has been getting worse for 20 years now. Can we sit there without doing anything in response?" Villepin said.

The prime minister said he planned to hold talks with unions and employers in April to discuss a range of employment issues.

"Above and beyond the CPE, there is widespread anxiety in the country about job insecurity, which concerns not just the young but part-time workers, especially women worried about tomorrow, and unskilled workers," he said.

Villepin, who is a close ally of President Jacques Chirac and has been tipped as a candidate to replace him at next year's elections, has seen his poll ratings plunge in recent weeks after a long political honeymoon.

With the opposition Socialists finding in the CPE a rare chance to unite against the government, Villepin was being further undermined by mutterings within his own camp, commentators said.

Sunday's newspapers carried anonymous remarks from senior members of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), criticising the 52 year-old prime minister — who has never once stood in an election — for his aloof style.

"He acts alone, with absolutely no consultation, even though he does not have the legitimacy of an election behind him," a deputy told Le Journal du Dimanche.

"Hatred of Villepin is going to become the most popular sport on the right," an unnamed minister told Le Parisien, whose article on the crisis was headlined "Villepin's future at stake".

The CPE row has come on top of a series of other difficulties for Villepin, including the bird flu scare, the embarrassing recall of the decommissioned aircraft-carrier the Clemenceau from India on environmental grounds, and a parliamentary debacle over attempts to regulate file-sharing by Internet.

Nearly one in four of under 26 year-olds in France is without a job, a figure that rises to more than one in two in some of the high-immigration city suburbs that were hit by last November's riots.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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