When PM Dominique de Villepin announ-ced he was rescinding a labour reform law intended to increase employment for disadvantaged youth, he lamented that the law ‘’was not understood by everyone.” This was the remark of an unelected mandarin who refuses to take responsibility for making a bad situation worse.

The bad situation is an unemployment rate that stands at 22 per cent for all French youth and double that rate for the alienated descendants of immigrants. This threat to France’s future is a result of the nation’s stubborn resistance to changes that are inevitable. France does not have the option of withdrawing from a global economy that becomes more and more competitive every day. The forces that clashed over Villepin’s botched labour reform will have to compromise and cooperate in liberalising France’s labour markets. The aim of such compromises should not be to dismantle the hard-won guarantees of a decent standard of living, but to preserve the possibility of capitalism with a human face.

The longer it takes for France to adapt to realities, the more painful the process of adaptation will be. France needs leaders who are able to begin a dialogue with society about the ineluctability of change and about the most humane ways of accomplishing that change.