Hollande criticised over rise in jobless
FRENCH PRESIDENT François Hollande came under renewed pressure over his handling of the economy yesterday after the number of unemployed passed the symbolic three million mark for the first time in 13 years.
Official confirmation that the jobless rate had reached 10 per cent came at a sensitive time for the socialist government, which has been stung in recent days by faltering public support and opposition attacks on its record.
Mr Hollande, who campaigned on a pledge to reduce France’s chronic youth unemployment, has reacted to the poor outlook by speeding up a major initiative under which the state will pay part of the salaries of tens of thousands of young people next year.
The “jobs for the future” scheme will offer contracts to low-skilled young people at a cost of about €2 billion.
Labour minister Michel Sapin confirmed yesterday that more than three million people were registered as jobseekers last month, the first time that threshold has been breached since 1999.
The government also indicated it may reduce its 2013 economic growth forecast from 1.2 per cent, which is considered too optimistic by many economists.
“Climbing up the hill will be difficult, but every day we lead the fight,” said prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
The dire economic news has hit Mr Hollande’s poll ratings and led to sharp opposition attacks on his low-key leadership style. Just four months into his term, a poll by Ipsos last week put the president’s approval rating at 44 per cent, down from 55 per cent in July.
His grace period has ended sooner than that of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, whose ratings dipped below the 50 per cent mark eight months into his period in office.
Anxious to keep public opinion behind him as he prepares for a tough budget that promises €30 billion in savings, Mr Hollande has sanctioned a cut in fuel prices and has raised the ceiling on tax-free savings accounts. The right-wing opposition has accused Mr Hollande of inertia, however, contrasting his low-profile leadership with the active, micro-managing style of Mr Sarkozy.
“As France flirts with recession and we approach the dangerous level of three million out of work, Hollande and the Socialists seem incapable of taking bold decisions,” UMP deputy Franck Riester said.