April 8, 2006

France’s Chirac to decide Monday on youth job law

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Jacques Chirac will meet
his embattled prime minister and other members of the ruling
party on Monday to finalize new proposals to end the political
crisis over a youth job law.

Opposition and student groups want the government to drop
an unpopular "hire and fire" part of the legislation, after
leading weeks of protests and strikes that have shut down
schools and universities and sometimes ended in violence.

Chirac, who signed the measures into law but said they must
be changed soon, handed the task of agreeing new proposals with
critics to parliamentary members of the ruling UMP party, in a
slur to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

"They will come to present their propositions to the
president in the presence of the prime minister on Monday
morning and the decision will be taken at the end of this
meeting," a source in Chirac's office said on Saturday.

Two newspapers reported that the proposals were ready on
Friday but that fighting between Villepin and Interior Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy, his likely rival for the right's candidature
in 2007 presidential elections, delayed the announcement.

Villepin's approval ratings have sunk to new lows because
of the row over the CPE first job contract, prompting calls for
his resignation and weakening him in the UMP, which Sarkozy

Those close to Sarkozy have said he wants the government to
suspend the CPE part of the law and replace it with a new plan.

Villepin, who is seen as Chirac's favorite to replace him
in 2007 should he not run, has ruled out scrapping it and
rejected speculation he would resign by promising to battle on.


Unions are due to meet on Monday evening to decide what to
do next, and more student protests are planned for Tuesday.

"What we want is for the CPE to disappear," said Francois
Chereque, head of the CFDT union.

Backers say the CPE will help cut youth unemployment of 22
percent by bypassing existing French labor law that makes it
hard to sack anyone with a fixed contract. Critics say the
contract will add to job insecurity.

Opposition Socialist Party politicians met on Saturday in
the western town of Rennes, where the protests against the new
contract have been particularly strong. "(The CPE) must be
buried," said Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande.

Several hundred students protested in Rennes town center
and overnight they occupied a post-office sorting building.

In Pau, the Davis Cup tennis match between France and
Russia was interrupted by two girls who ran onto the court
wearing anti-CPE t-shirts.

Easter holidays began in some parts of France on Saturday
and some students said their action could lose steam over the
break. But students at Jussieu University, the largest in the
capital, said they had voted to blockade again when they

"People are still mobilized and a clear majority is still
in favor of continuing the blockade," said Eddy Liaib, 23, a
Jussieu student.

(Additional reporting by Matthew Bigg and Laure Bretton)