Unpopular Juppe wins a vote of confidence

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The Independent Online
The French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, easily won the vote of confidence in his government, which he called yesterday when members of the majority in parliament rallied behind him.

However, in private members of the ruling Republican and UDF parties are calling for his resignation and doubts remain as to how long his government can stay in power.

Criticism has mounted recently over the government's economic policies and the number of proposed new laws. On Monday, President Jacques Chirac admitted: "The French have doubts about everything, including our ability to face up to the task in hand." The president of the right-wing UDF party, Francois Leotard, asked: "Will we reach the end of this parliament? I don't think so." And yesterday the Minister for National and Regional Development, Jean-Claude Gantin, did not exclude an imminent dissolution of parliament.

The mood of politicians closely echoes that of the public. A survey last week revealed that Mr Juppe was the most unpopular prime minister in recent memory. Only 31 per cent of those questioned had a good opinion of him while 61 per cent were dissatisfied.

The country's discontent with government policies is once more being marked by strikes. On Monday, 59 per cent of primary schools and 41 per cent of secondary school teachers stayed off work to protest against proposed budget cuts. Some rail workers have been on strike since Sunday against the threat of redundancies and the rail unions last week announced they would join the public sector strike which is being called for 17 October.

Dissension has been rife within Mr Juppe's own majority against the introduction of ananti-racism law and a proposal for a degree of proportional representation to be introduced into the voting system.

The failure of recent tax reforms to win over the public, the gaping deficit in the social security budget, and the 5.3 per cent rise in unemployment over the past year have all heightened calls for Mr Juppe to go.

Yet it must be acknowledged that he has little room for economic manoeuvre owing to the constraints imposed by the conditions for European monetary union, which France has targeted to meet in 1998. While the French seem confident that they will meet the deadline, President Chirac caused a mini-crisis between Paris and Rome on the eve of the two day Franco-Italian summit, due to start in Naples today, by questioning whether Italy will be able to join EMU in 1999. Earlier this week Mr Chirac denounced the competitive devaluation of the lira as being "more harmful [to the French economy] than south-east Asian exports".

The Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, felt the attack was due to the terror "caused by the dynamism of Italian industry". By yesterday morning Mr Chirac had changed tack, with an announcement that "the policy was a step in the right direction".