The Socialists had hoped to defuse the situation by the law, hastily pushed through the Assemblée in Feburary, being declared unconstitutional. That option was defeated on Thursday by the Constitutional Council. It declared that the legislation was completely constitutional and left it to the President to sort the mess out.
In advance of his speech students and high school pupils gathered in the streets of Paris, disrupting traffic and creating havoc generally. The unions are promising another general strike in the near future.
Chirac announced that the law will be implemented but with two changes: the two-year period should be reduced to one year and people should be given an explanation as to why they are being fired, the latter being an eminently reasonable amendment.
By backing de Villepin’s law Chirac is hoping that within a year there will be enough evidence of it producing employment for young people (at present the unemployment rate for the under-26 stands at 23 per cent and would be even higher but for the numbers that leave to work in countries like Britain).
Had he agreed to withdraw the law, de Villepin would have had to resign. They do things differently across the Channel.
In the meantime, the unions are seething and will want something to to pacify them. The 1968 solution of higher social payments and shorter working hours is not really a possibility in a country that is going through a serious economic crisis and where the 35 hour week is already enshrined in law and is destroying employment.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the country will react to the ongoing problems. We have already seen the young of the banlieus coming into the centre and attacking the spoilt little denizens of the Sorbonne. There have been some counter-demonstrations as well. How long will the less privileged people of France – the ones who cannot get jobs – tolerate the antics of the Parisian youth?
For the moment there appears to be a general, if somewhat notional, support for the opposition to what is a rather footling piece of legislation. One can only surmise that the French population sees this as the thin end of the wedge that will bring those dreaded free-market Anglo-Saxon practices into la belle France.
Of course, if one lookes at the bourse, one sees that many of those practices are there already with foreign investors owning a good chunk of French business, no matter how much the government tries to prevent that. Conversely, the French are happy to go to other countries and buy or invest there.
Still, there have been enough stories in the last couple of years of attempts to prevent take-overs in France to indicate that there is a visceral dislike of that and the politicians, as ever, are happy to tap into it, disregarding the probable economic consequences.
In the meantime the French polling organization CSA has conducted a poll on the new law (CPE):
“Several polls reveal a strong majority wants the law withdrawn, with French youth especially opposed. A poll conducted March 21-22 by the French polling organization CSA found that 66 percent wanted the law withdrawn, while 25 percent opposed withdrawing it. Among those aged 18-29, three-fourths (74%) want the law withdrawn. The highest support for withdrawing the law was among 25-to-29-year-olds—78 percent; among 18-to-24-year-olds it was 72 percent.That famous Gallic logic seems to be taking a holiday.
Similarly, a poll by the French polling organization BVA conducted March 17-18 found that those who want the CPE withdrawn outnumber those who want it maintained two to one (60% withdraw, 31% maintain). Here too the number is even higher among those aged 15 to 24—68 percent want the law withdrawn—while 24 percent want it maintained.”
“This resistance to removing state protections appears to be related to a broader distrust: in a recent global poll, the French public was the most skeptical of the free market system compared to other countries. France is also one of the most negative countries in their assessment of their country’s economic conditions and the world economy, although French youth are quite optimistic about their own personal prospects.”The worldwide poll conducted in 20 countries by GlobeScan shows some interesting results, described as “ironic” by journalists who seem unable to think outside their own box.
There is nothing ironic about China, the Philippines, South Korea, India or Indonesia having large majorities in favour of the free market and the free economy. The people there can see what will and will not benefit them. It is high time we took their determination seriously.
The United States and Canada have reasonable majorities (Canada, as to be expected, somewhat lower); four European countries, Britain, Germany, Spain and Poland are hovering with an approval rate in the sixties; Italy just below, with Turkey and Russia below 50 per cent, lower than the Asian and the two African countries on the list.
And which country comes in at the very lowest with 36 per cent being in favour of a free economy and 50 per cent (by far the highest) against it? France. And yet they think they will somehow restore their leading position in the world that they last had in the eighteenth century. Rum.