The French government announced a €2.3bn programme to create jobs for 150,000 young people without skills today as President François Hollande attempts to end a steep slide in his popularity.
Although labelled “jobs for the future”, critics dismissed the scheme as an old-fashioned “make-work” programme. The state will pay 75 per cent of wages for youngsters hired by councils or voluntary organisations to take part in environmental, social, cultural or sports projects.
To display a sense of urgency as unemployment in France threatens to top 3,000,000, President Hollande and his Prime Minster, Jean-Marc Ayrault, have ordered parliament to return two weeks early from its summer break on 10 September to push through this and other emergency legislation.
According to one poll this week, President Hollande’s approval rating has fallen by 11 per cent since July – sounding alarm bells in the Elysée Palace. Although a steep fall in the popularity of recently elected presidents is part of the ritual of French politics, there is a worrying difference this time.
It is traditional for presidents to be punished for their actions, even the reforms that they have promised during an election campaign. Mr Hollande is losing support largely because he is seen to have been indecisive in his first three months in power in the face of growing economic crises in France and Europe.
He is also struggling to contain a rise in petrol prices and splits within his Socialist camp, and within his loose Left-Green coalition, over the EU fiscal discipline treaty and nuclear policy.
The “jobs for the future” programme unveiled yesterday by the employment minister Michel Sapin is a scaled-down version of one of Mr Hollande’s campaign promises. It resembles a much-criticised “youth jobs” scheme introduced by the last Socialist government in 1997 and abolished by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In the new scheme, the jobs will be reserved for “youngsters in great difficulties” – those who have emerged from the school system without a diploma and live in troubled suburbs or rural areas with high youth unemployment. Critics say that they will be paid the minimum wage to undertake mostly pointless work without training. Mr Sapin insists that the jobs will be useful and give the youngsters self-respect and an introduction to the disciplines of the work-place.
There are estimated to be 500,000 young people aged 16-25 in France who have no jobs or skills. Mr Sapin blames their “terrifying situation” on a decline in the education system and the increased disparity between rich and poor regions, and even rich and poor districts of large conurbations.