When François Hollande announced that he wouldn’t stand for re-election in 2017 if he couldn’t get record unemployment down, he probably never thought it would come to this.
In February 2016 with just over one year to go until the next presidential election, unemployment is still at a record high and more worryingly for Hollande and France – it continues to rise.
On Thursday night Hollande took to live TV to announce that changes were coming in what will effectively be a last ditch bid to cut joblessness.
His plan is to make the rigid French labour market a little more like the Scandinavian models – or “flexisecurity a la française”.
Four years into his presidency Hollande told French TV viewers that he wants to introduce more “flexibility” to allow companies to hire, but also “security” for those employees whose situations may change.
France is often criticised by both the French and foreign observers for having an inflexible labour market, where employers are too scared to take people on, because they know they will have a hard time sacking them if they are not up to the job or they have to lay them off.
Scandinavian countries’ flexisecurity model basically allows for more labour market flexibility combined with social protection for those who lose their jobs or are out of work.
The current market in France is viewed, by at least those on the right, as having too much protection for workers and not enough suppleness.
Hollande will put his plan into action through the upcoming employment reforms to be drawn up by his labour minister Myriam El Khomri.
“It will be a law that will give businesses the ability to adapt,” he said adding that the government would introduce “company referendums” that might take some power out of the hands of unions.
“It will be flexisecurity a la française this time. We can create a model that lasts beyond 2017,” he said.
But the president said certain pillars of France’s labour market would not be touched, including the 35-hour week.
“The length of the work week, the employment contract, the minimum wage – all of these are fundamental but it’s true they are too heavy,” he added.
Asked about unemployment he said: “It’s there, and it’s rising. Even if the rate of the progression is lower, it’s still unbearable.”