France to hold jobs summit as unemployment hits 12-year high
29.12.11 @ 09:09
BRUSSELS - A sharp rise in France's unemployment figures is putting pressure on President Nicolas Sarkozy to deliver, with over half the French population wanting the candidates for the spring presidential election to focus their energies on maintaining jobs.
Figures released by the labour ministry this week show that the number of those unemployed hit 2.85 million in November, a 12-year high and the seventh consecutive monthly increase.
The numbers have sparked a debate in France about the nature and future of employment with Sarkozy convening a jobs summit on 18 January.
The discussion has mainly focussed on part-time work and reducing hours and salaries instead of losing jobs, a proposal that has to be agreed with the unions.
Employment minister Xavier Bertrand said the January summit would see solutions that could be applied "rapidly" in order to contain "the effects of the crisis to the maximum."
France's joblessness plight has once again highlighted the difference between the strength of its economy in comparison with neighbouring Germany - a fact that has increasingly put the Franco-German relationship out of kilter.
Germany's falling unemployment was acknowledged by Bertrand: "Only Germany today is seeing its unemployment recede because they carried out profound reforms of the jobs market starting ten years ago and lasting ten years. We undertook (reforms) only a few years ago. That is the difference."
The news of the summit comes as figures show that de-industrialisation in France has accelarated since the start of the crisis in 2008.
According to Les Echos, the French financial daily, almost 900 factories have been closed since 2008. Of these, 400 were closed in 2009, the year the crisis hit the hardest, while 200 were closed in 2011.
The effect on employment has been huge. Over the last three years, some 100,000 jobs in the industrial sector have been lost.
Unemployment as an issue is a number-one priority on French voters' minds. According to a poll in La Croix newspaper, 52 percent of French people want the candidates for the April presidential elections to focus on responses that "maintain employment."
However, 72 of the respondents believe that presidential campaign so far is bringing response that are "far" from their concerns.
Of the main candidates in the running, socialist contender Francois Hollande is seen as proposing the best solutions to the daily problems of French citizens by 24 percent of those polled. Sarkozy comes in second with 20 percent and far-right politician Marine Le Pen in third place (16%).
While all candidates will focus on combatting unemployment and there are set to be many proposals for economic growth, their hands will be tied by France's commitment to reduce its high budget deficit, as part of an overall plan to contain the eurozone debt crisis.