Fraternite, egalite, flexibilite

Speaking in Nice last week, the former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur did something that no French politician with even one eye on power would be advised to do. He called in direct and unapologetic terms for greater flexibility in employment policy.

He said there should be simpler labour legislation, more and longer temporary contracts and a reduction in the sick-pay and other social obligations on small companies. He even suggested pilot projects in selected regions. It was a choice, he said, between "reform or decline".

Even four weeks ago, such sentiments were taboo. Then, the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, had only to hint that he might be considering a softening of employment protection legislation to prompt headlines like "Juppe's charter for sacking" and an immediate denial from his office that there was "any plan to make sacking easier".

In the weeks that have followed, however, flexibility has become a buzzword heard not just from predictable quarters such as the "Thatcherite" right of Alain Madelin, but increasingly from officials and even the occasional minister. Like it or not - and the French public do not like it at all - "flexibility" is insinuating itself on to the political agenda.

The government may have capitulated to the lorry drivers and it may have performed a spectacularly retrogressive U-turn on the privatisation of the Thomson group, but it is talking more and more about job "flexibility" as a way of reducing the 12.6 per cent unemployment rate. It is as though the government is trying, by constant low-key bombardment with the word, to soften up public opinion.

"Flexibility" was used repeatedly in a television discussion programme this week by Mr Balladur's former spokesman and budget minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is tipped to regain a ministry in the next cabinet reshuffle. Why not extend the possibility of temporary contracts beyond the present 18 months? he asked. At present such a contract has either to be made permanent or terminated after that time.

The left-leaning trade unions have taken a very dim view of the intrusion of "flexibility" into ministerial pronouncements. The Socialist Party has also voiced objections to any modification to labour laws "towards greater flexibility in dismissals". Part of the old-style Gaullist right also dislikes the new vocabulary and what they see as the American and British-style hiring and firing mentality that goes with it. In a clear dig at "reformers" like Mr Juppe, the former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua told Gaullists last weekend that he was "not ready to exchange the slogan of the French Republic - liberte, egalite, fraternite - for something supposedly more modern like stabilite, competitivite . . . and flexibilite.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Junior Developer- CSS, HMTL, Bootstrap

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

Junior Web Developer- CSS, HMTL

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz