French bishops fear youth protests signal "deep crisis"

France's Catholic bishops said the month-long street protests about the youth employment law signal a "deep crisis" in the country, which requires more consideration of "youth suffering and distress."

Catholic News Service reports that the bishops said in a statement after a meeting last week in Lourdes that many French youth feel discriminated against.

"A certain number of young people know that, from now on, through their difficulty in finding stable work, they will not be able to enjoy a standard of living comparable to their parents," they said.

The bishops' statement was issued before announcement by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin that he was scrapping controversial clauses in the employment law, which would have allowed employers to fire workers under 26 years old without explanation during a two-year trial period.

The bishops said the latest conflict was also caused by "a worsening model of consumer society," in which established life and work patterns were being undermined by "technological evolution and economic globalisation."

They added that the "radical question" was what French society prioritised.

"The dissatisfaction touches the reasons for living - a hope which creates a desire for life cannot be reduced to a mere search for security," the bishops said.

The bishops said disputes over the employment law had plunged France into a new "large-scale social and political crisis" only a couple of months following nationwide youth protests about immigration integration.

"Last October and November, it was urban violence, an expression of youth suffering largely sprung from immigration," said the bishops in the statement signed by bishops' conference president Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux.

"Today, it is again the suffering of the young, but this time in the field of studies and entrance into the world of work. We cannot fail to listen to this youth suffering, this distress about the future."

Millions of students and union members took to the streets in mid-March against the new workplace law, which was proposed by the French government to ease youth unemployment.

The decision to drop the measure, announced this week after President Jacques Chirac's meeting with government ministers, was hailed as a victory by protest leaders, who had threatened strikes after Easter. However, some students vowed to continue protests until the entire employment law was revoked.

The bishops said France's democratic system had been discredited by "divisions in the political class," and attempts to exploit the crisis for electoral gain.

"The moment of tension we are living through expresses a deeper anxiety toward the future, the unease of a whole age-class which transcends all social classes," said the bishops.

The Church in France has repeatedly urged fairer treatment of young people, whose unemployment is as high as 50 per cent in some regions of the country.

French bishops say youth employment law protests signal 'deep crisis' (Catholic News Service 11/4/06)

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French Catholic Bishops Conference

13 Apr 2006