How the protesters humiliated the government.

The week's news at a glance.


What an utter humiliation for France’s leaders, said Hugh Schofield in the London Independent. President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin bowed to masses of rioting students this week and rescinded an unpopular labor law. The law was intended to cut the high unemployment—20 percent—among young people, by making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers under age 26. The young folks, outraged that they might actually be fired for poor performance, launched a “people power” uprising, and won. By backing down, the president showed the world “what a busted flush” he is. And “his prime minister’s explanation that he was withdrawing his labor law out of concern for the safety of demonstrating students must win the Weasel Words of the Year award.”

Chirac resorted to “utter absurdity” in his attempt to let his prime minister save face, said Günther Nonnenmacher in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. As protests mounted, Chirac announced he would sign the law but order that it not be implemented until a new version had been written. When that ridiculous maneuver failed to placate the demonstrators, Chirac finally killed the law altogether. His wavering and ultimate capitulation have managed not only to rob him of the last shreds of dignity, but also to emasculate de Villepin. Now the prime minister has no chance of winning his center-right party’s nomination for president next year.

Don’t weep for de Villepin, said France’s Libération in an editorial. It was his “incomprehensible stubbornness” in backing this so-called reform that dragged out the crisis for three long months. “Weeks and weeks of protests, demonstrations, and strikes were needed” before the prime minister finally “resigned himself to retreating and eating his words.” The debacle is certainly a “painful personal failure” for de Villepin. But it was also a “serious institutional crisis.” The government “staged a depressing show of internal quarrels, confusion of powers, and indecision at all levels.”

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