De Villepin pledges more jobs by taking policies from right and left

A bizarre left-right cocktail of job creation through protectionism, state spending and less red tape has been proposed by the new French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin.

In his maiden parliamentary speech, M. de Villepin signalled a push by Paris for a "fortress Europe" to protect jobs against globalisation and Asian competition. He said: "We have a right to demand European economic preference, just like all the other big economic blocs."

M. de Villepin said France's commitment to European integration remained "unshaken" by the "no" vote on the proposed EU constitution 10 days ago. He added, however, that France would look for ways to establish a "union" with Germany on an unspecified range of policies - reinforcing fears that Paris and Bonn may now seek to create an "inner core" of EU countries.

The greater part of M. de Villepin's 55-minute speech to the national assembly yesterday was taken up with a programme to combat unemployment by making it easier for small businesses to hire new employees, especially the young.

A €1,000 (£670) state bonus will be given to any unemployed person taking a job after at least a year on the dole. Businesses employing fewer than 10 people will be allowed to take on employees on temporary contracts for up to two years. The government will, in effect, subsidise the pay of people hired by some small businesses.

M. de Villepin, who has no previous experience in social and economic policy, also promised to increase spending on transport and environmental projects. He announced state grants to create 100,000 jobs as home-helps and child-minders.

Altogether, he promised to spend an extra €4.5bn on job-related policies next year. M. de Villepin promised, however, that French public spending would remain frozen in real terms and would respect from 2006 the borrowing limit of 3 per cent of GDP which has been set for countries belonging to the euro.

M. de Villepin, a published poet, historian and career diplomat, is a protégé of President Chirac who has never stood for election. Politicians of both left and right saw him as an odd choice to respond to the populist insurrection which led to the rejection of the proposed EU constitution.

The Prime Minister gave a polished performance yesterday, however, restraining his usual flights of rhetoric and trying to adopt a balance between deregulation (to please the right) and appeals for social solidarity (to appease the left).

The 10 per cent unemployment rate in France, coupled with low disposable incomes for many of those in work, is believed to have been a decisive factor in the French vote against the EU constititution. The referendum campaign also revealed a deep fear in France of free trade, globalisation and enlargement of Europe to the east - hence M. de Villepin's reference to "European economic preference".

Building a higher trade barrier around the EU runs counter to the official policy of Brussels and the rules of the World Trade Organisation. M. de Villepin's comments amounted to a shot across the bows of those in Britain who believe the collapse of the constitution presents a chance to impose a new gospel of even freer trade in Europe.

The centre-right Prime Minister went out of his way to please the many French voters of the left who discovered, with horror, that the proposed constitution contained free-market language copied from European treaty to treaty since 1957. "The meaning of Europe rests in its values," he said. "It cannot be constructed by market forces alone."

However, M. de Villepin also implicitly warned the unions, the vast public sector and the French left that they must be ready to accept change. Sounding almost Blairist at times, M. de Villepin asked politicians of left and right to put aside "prejudices and dogma". Jobless people who refused work on more than three occasions should have their benefits reduced, he said.

M. de Villepin was unusual in making his maiden speech almost as unpopular with his own camp on the centre-right as with the left. Many members of M. Chirac's UMP party say they regard their leader as neither the President of the republic, nor the Prime Minister, but the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own