NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 15, 2006

Off Paris's Boulevard Saint Germain Monday, students from France's most famous university faced police in riot gear. This generation's bête noire is something called the "First Job Contract," says the Wall Street Journal.

That's legislation championed by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and passed by the National Assembly last week in a bid to reduce France's youth unemployment rate of 23 percent. Make that 50 percent or higher for France's poor minority suburbs, which exploded last fall when out-of-work young men set hundreds of cars on fire night after night.

  • The new law makes it more attractive to hire people 26 years and younger by letting employers fire them more easily if things don't work out.
  • Such special contracts are widely used elsewhere on the Continent and have proved an effective way of getting around the European Union's rigid labor codes.

The student protesters, in league with the labor unions, say de Villepin's reform chips away at France's hallowed social model that protects people in jobs at the expense of those without. Naturally, the young people who are able to find jobs include graduates of elite institutions such as the Sorbonne. Their idea of "revolution" these days is protecting a status quo that favors them over their less-well-educated, poorer peers, says the Journal.

Overall unemployment in France has been stuck at about 10 percent for the good part of the past two decades. Here's a truly revolutionary thought for the student demonstrators: Tell France's leaders to stop tinkering around the edges and overhaul the entire rotten system, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Les Misérables," Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2006.

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