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French press review 31 October 2012

Ayrault unleashes Hurricane 35 hours. The US counts the cost of Hurricane Sandy. And could Europe face suprestorms itself? 

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Thirty-five hours or not 35 hours, that is the question.

Yesterday French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that he was not against reopening the debate on the 35-hour working week, introduced by a previous Socialist government under Lionel Jospin.

Parliamentary elections 2012

The poor man's openness to discussion has resulted in a political strom dwarfed only by the real thing in New York.

Right-wing Le Figaro and its political co-thinkers are delighted. We've had former prime minister François Fillon sniping away, saying that the French voter is losing confidence in the administration because of repeated errors by Ayrault and other key members of his team.

The editorial in the right-wing daily says the 35-hour week has been a "calamity" for France, plunging industry and the civil service into an unwinnable battle against the clock, with staff shortages destroying competitivity and efficiency.

Independent analysts agree that shortening the working week directly led to the creation of 350,000 jobs, far short of the 700,000 hoped for by the Socialist initiators of the scheme, but nonetheless welcome in a situation with more than three million people are on the dole.

Le Figaro may be closer to the truth when they point to the difficulties the 35-hour week has caused in the health sector, where many staff have accumulated unimaginable, and certainly unmanagable, amounts of time off, threatening the overall functioning of crucial areas like operating theatres.

The shorter working week has also cost 20 billion euros each year, according to Le Figaro, although it doesn't offer any justification for that figure.

Left-leaning Libération says the French are very happy with the extra time off and don't want any debate about the 35 hours. That will do nicely, thank you.

The other big story is the storm in the United States, with Les Echos headlining on New York paralysed and the likely cost running to billions of dollars.

And Aujourd'hui en France asks are we in Europe threatened by the same sort of weather disaster in the future? The answer is, yes, but probably not as much as north America and not immediately.

Phew!

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