Liberation looks at how the crisis might now unfold

An article from today's Liberation which analyses the state of play amongst the major players in the French political crisis as the youth revolt grows.

Submitted by alibi on March 29, 2006

The article was written by Marie-Joelle Gros, Vanessa Schneider and Francois Wenz-Dumas.

After yesterday’s mobilization, without precendent since 1995, the government is finding it difficult to come up with an exit after two month of crisis.

Historic. The 3 million people that took to France’s streets yesterday in order to protest against the CPE, according to the CGT, is a record in the contemporary period. Even the police gave a number of over a million admitting thus a mobilization stronger than the one against the Juppe plan in 1996 and the one against pension reform in 2003. In the face of this breakthrough what are the possible scenarios?

1. Dominique de Villepin, can he last?
To hang on, this is the goal of Dominique de Villepin that refused, again yesterday, to consider a full withdrawal of his CPE. The Prime Minister’s entourage figure that he has no other choice than to resist the pressure of the street. If he withdraws his law, he loses his right-wing support and can say goodbye to his ambitions for 2007. If this were to happen, he might even have to retire. This is how strongly this law is seen as his. His only option of emerging with majority support among the right-wing is to hang on while praying strongly that the unions and students tire of protesting. For now, Matignon awaits the decision of the constitutional Council. If the Council rules his law unconstitutional, he will gain some breathing space by withdrawing without appearing to have done so. If the opposite happens, which seems the most likely, Villepin seems determined to ask Jacques Chirac for a quick passing of the bill into law. By repeating his appeals for dialogue, he is trying to put the responsibility for the impasse on the unions and to justify the continued use of force. “If there are negotiations, the President will not interrupt them by a decree. If there isn’t negotiation, the unions will be held responsible” stated yesterday a close associate of Villepin. The villepiniste Herve Mariton supports a quick passage of the bill. This could be the choice of Chirac at least if he prefers to retain the support of the majority of UMP deputies.

2. Can union unity be maintained?
If the intention of Villepin was to divide the unions, he has failed completely. The Prime Minister has done more in two month to unite the unions than in the last two years that followed the pension reform of 2003. “No one is thinking that there can be disunity in the union camp. Bernard Thibaul and the CGT have done a lot to bring this situation about” said an official from Unsa (independent). Yesterday, the five confederations (CGT, CFTD, FO, CFTC, CGC) raised the bar by demanding that Chirac resubmit the bill to Parliament. Only Monday night, by way of telephone calls from Jean-Cde Mailly (FO) and Bernard Thibault (CGT), Francois Chereque (CFDT) learned that Villepin had proposed a meeting with them today. Matignon did not even take the pain to tell him directly. Chereque’s response to Villepin was only drier: “I would have hoped to know about the contents of this letter that you addressed to me late other than through the media. I see in this act your sudden attachment to social dialogue” but “it is clear that the CPE has become a condition for all dialogue” that it is “necessary do withdraw it.” Today, the 12 inter-union organizations (1) are meeting to prepare for the next steps. Several options are available to them : a meeting of heavyweights (meeting with Villepin), large national demonstrations and further strikes.

3. Does the student movement (university and highschool) risk running out of steam?
Do highschool and university students have the means to hold strong. The situation is different at each university. At Renne-II, totally shut-down for the last 7 weeks, like at Poitiers, that is in its 6th week of occupation, the students feel victory approaching. This gives them “even more strength” states Julien Vialard, leader of the students at Poitiers. At Metz, the students that have occupied the university for “three and a half weeks” are showing sings of fatigue: “The tension is rising, we do not know what will happen next” comments a local leader. Until now, the students opposed to the occupation of the universities have mainly expressed themselves on the internet, and a few were able to organize meetings. This could change in the following days. The attitude of university presidents will weigh heavily, especially on the question of delaying the exam period. And the Easter holidays are approaching: April 8, Paris and Bordeaux will again be on holidays. For the students, it is crucial to obtain the withdrawal of the CPE before this three week break.

4. Will salvation come from the constitutional Council?
Tomorrow, the wise men and women of Montpensier street will examine article 8, the article that created the CPE, to decide if it is constitutional. If they conclude that article 8 must be removed, this will be a setback for Villepin. But this will offer to the government an immediate way out of the crisis. For its part, the left has made four arguments to support its demand that the CPE be rejected. The left has argued that the use of 43.9 was not justified and that the CPE is a reform too important to be introduced by amendment without the Council of State giving its advice. Also, the left has pointed to the excessive duration of two years of the probation period set out by the CPE and the inequality the CPE would lead to between workers younger and older than 26. The constitutional Council’s president’s reputation for independence makes difficult any predictions on the Council’s decision. “Knowing well Pierre Mazeaud, I did not for a second think to call him” admitted a minister. If the Council rules the bill constitutional, Chirac will have a nine days to sign the bill into law. If he does this, the unions will take it as a provocation, cutting all short-term possibilities for dialogue. If he does not, the crisis will continue that much longer. There remains another option: a ruling that the bill is constitutional attached with serious reservations. This could allow Chirac to send the bill back to Parliament for review.

(1) The five confederations plus Unsa, FSU, Solidaires, Unef, Confédérations étudiante, lycéens FIDL and the l'UNL.

Translated for by alibi