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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sur l’agenda du 1er juillet

by Jean-Paul Piérot

On the Agenda for July 1st

Translated Friday 11 July 2008, by Gene Zbikowski


Today, two political events have made the headlines. Two distinct events, but which are more closely related than appears at first sight.

Beginning on this July 1st and up to the end of the year, France will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union. This role falls at regular intervals to each member state, according to a well-established order. A cycle, not to say a routine, Paris succeeding Ljubljana and preceding Prague. And yet, this episode in the functioning of European institutions was the object of an unprecedented propaganda operation. For a year, they’ve been busy at the French presidential palace and in the services of Mr. Jouyet, the official in charge of European affairs, so that these six months will create the absurd illusion that Nicolas Sarkozy is presiding over the fate of nearly 500 million Europeans. A coronation, whose climax was to be the cavalry-charge recycling of the constitutional treaty which the French people rejected in a referendum on May 29, 2005.

But the coup failed, thanks to the people of Ireland.

But behind the pomp and protocol, in the shadow of an Eiffel Tower inundated with azure laser light, the Sarkozy presidency has been inaugurated under auspices that are clearly less enchanting. A few weeks ago, the edifying news came from Luxemburg that the EU Council of Ministers had adopted a draft directive on the work week opening the way to raising the maximum legal work week (within the EU) to over 48 hours. The workers (or is it the employers?) will be able to waive the norms by practicing the “opt-out” that is so well known in the U.K. And thus, instead of hiring an unemployed youth, the boss will be able to advise his employees to work until they drop, or at least until they’ve worked 65 hours... Is it Brussels’ fault? That’s a hasty conclusion, because, in this case, it was Xavier Bertrand who was representing France on the Council of Ministers. The position he took, his alignment on the British point of view, proved to be decisive in the adoption of the draft directive. This is truly a break with the past. Never, up to now, have the representatives of France adopted such a position. Gérard Larcher, Xavier Bertrand’s counterpart in the Villepin government, who is anything but a left-winger, declared, following a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers in 2006 at which the question was broached: “It’s a question of the credibility of the European social model and the protection of workers’ health. We cannot accept a compromise which does not provide for a date for the elimination of this opt-out.” Nowadays, when you’re supposed to work more so that your boss can make more, Larcher’s reservations seem to belong to the trade union vocabulary.

The work week lengthened to as long as you want by the European authorities: this provides a framework for doing away with the 35-hour work week in France... Indeed, the second event that has darkened this summer’s day is expected at the French National Assembly, where debates on the bill on trade union recognition are scheduled to begin.

What was to have been the final adoption of an agreement between the biggest trade union organizations and the employers, reached after a series of tough negotiations, has been transformed into a plot against the length of the work week, through the addition of an article that leaves the determination of the length of the work week to the balance of power within each company. The man behind this dirty trick is none other than Xavier Bertrand, the very one who voted for the opt-out at the EU Council of Ministers.

While the inspirer is Nicolas Sarkozy.

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