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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 05:15 GMT
European press review

Protests against labour reform escalate in France, German and French leaders meet in Berlin, Czechs welcome new opportunities to work in the EU and a poll finds anti-Semitism in Sweden.

Protests escalate

France's Le Figaro says protests against a labour reform which makes it easier to dismiss people under 26 during their first two years of employment have intensified.

Dominique de Villepin wants to demonstrate his firmness and determination, but the arrogance... he showed on 12 March on TF1 had the effect of spreading the protests
Le Monde

Under the headline "Chirac commits himself as protests take hold", the paper says opposition to the First Employment Contract (CPE) spread to high schools as President Jacques Chirac backed Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on the issue.

Le Monde says Mr de Villepin failed to respond adequately to people's concerns when he defended the CPE in a television interview.

"Dominique de Villepin wants to demonstrate his firmness and determination, but the arrogance... he showed on 12 March on TF1 had the effect of spreading the protests in universities."

The paper argues that experience shows that laws as controversial as this are unworkable and concludes that the government has little choice but to back down or, to save face, to rely on censure from the country's Constitutional Council.

Liberation says the prime minister risks a choice of interminable protests or a "belated U-turn" that would be "disastrous" for his image.

Romania's Cotidianul says the reform could endanger the premier's political future.

"Villepin, whom Chirac would like as his successor after the presidential elections in 2007, now faces a major test which could weaken his electoral chances," it argues.

In Austria, Der Standard says the reform is justified in principle but has been badly presented.

"In theory the reform is supposed to benefit young people," the paper says, but "in practice de Villepin is using the notorious CRS riot police against them and is conjuring up nasty memories of 1968, when the CRS distinguished itself by rare brutality."

United front

A meeting between French President Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday was intended to demonstrate "closeness", says Germany's Die Welt.

Let nobody say that the Franco-German friendship lacks fresh impetus
Berliner Zeit

"The Franco-German axis, around which Europe was supposed to revolve... is a thing of the past," the paper believes.

But it adds that the two leaders presented a range of joint initiatives and were in agreement on international issues.

"The emphasis was on unity and there were no notes of discord in the public statements that were made."

Berliner Zeitung notes that the two countries are united in having a restive workforce.

"Let nobody say that the Franco-German friendship lacks fresh impetus," the paper comments.

It believes that a major industrial dispute in Germany's public sector must be "balm for the French people's soul", while the protests in France over the First Employment Contract may reassure Germans because they show that Paris "is finding it even more difficult to implement reforms".

Czechs welcome 'important step'

The Czech Republic's Hospodarske Noviny welcomes the French government's announcement that it will open its labour market to people from the new European Union countries.

Czechs have been allowed to work in Britain, Ireland and Sweden since January 2004. But this means crossing the sea
Hospodarske Noviny

"Although this opening is only partial and at first Czechs will only be allowed to work in health care, restaurants and construction, it is a great step," the paper says.

Czechs, it continues, "were deprived of one of the fundamental freedoms, the possibility of living and working wherever they wanted in the EU", when the country joined the Union, which made them feel like "second-class EU citizens".

"Czechs have been allowed to work in Britain, Ireland and Sweden since January 2004. But this means crossing the sea.

"The opening up of the Spanish and French labour markets is therefore very important," the daily concludes.

Alarm over poll findings

Two Swedish dailies consider a poll which found that 5% of Swedes are anti-Semitic and 36% agree with some anti-Semitic statements.

"Anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe. Including in Sweden, which likes to see itself as unusually wise and unprejudiced," Sydsvenska Dagbladet says.

The paper is most concerned that 15% of respondents wholly or partially agreed that "Jews have too much influence in the world today".

"It is certainly alarming that the old myths of Jewish conspiracies and power over the economy, media and politics live on."

Another Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, feels anti-Semitism is most clearly expressed in the finding that 25% of Swedes wholly or partially disagreed that it would be acceptable to have a Jewish prime minister.

"This attitude shows that Jews are not seen as 'proper' or 'completely' Swedish, even though they may have been born in the country and come from families who have lived here for a couple of centuries," it says.

"No-one should be surprised that there is latent anti-Semitism in Swedish society," it adds.

"It is here among us and it is not only a threat to Jews. It is an attack on the whole of democratic society."

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.





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