The message from young French people to whoever becomes their new president is clear: "Give us a job!"
With French youth unemployment at 20 percent, all presidential candidates have vowed to make job creation a priority should they become elected in the April/May poll. But they also know the issue is prone to spark strong emotions.
While many young French worry about finding jobs, they don't all agree on how the government should help them towards a brighter future.
"There's a lot of discrimination when you're looking for work," said Demba Sall, a 19-year old of Senegalese origin, who lives in a poor, ethnically diverse suburb of the central city of Chartres and is looking for work as a cook.
In contrast to some students, who lobby candidates to make sure new labor laws do not curb employees' job security, youngsters like Sall say their priority is to get a first chance on the market, with job protection a secondary concern.
"We need jobs for all," Sall said, adding a new president should fight against racism, pump money into training and allow unqualified youths better access to the job market.
Just a year ago, the centre-right government had to withdraw a youth job law, known as the CPE job contract, after weeks of student protests across France.
Proposed after riots by angry youths in poor suburbs, where unemployment often reaches 40 percent, the centre-right government had argued the CPE would encourage firms to employ new staff by making it easier for them to hire and fire.
Some in the riot-hit areas had said that although they did not like the CPE, it was better than no job. But protesting students called the contract an attack on job protection, and they have vowed to resist new attempts to make jobs less secure.
"There would be a strong reaction if (the new president) attacked workers' rights," said Caroline de Haas, a 26-year old politics student and secretary general of the UNEF union, one of the main organizers of last year's protests.
"We are ready to take back to the streets," she said. "It's not flexibility in the employment world which will create jobs. What creates jobs is a rise in purchasing power and growth."
Rightist candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has already sparked students' anger by proposing to set up a single labor contract, under which social rights would increase over time. De Haas said his proposal risked resembling the CPE.
Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has also come under fire from students for a plan to encourage small firms to employ non-qualified school leavers, suggesting the state could pay the wages and charges for these workers for one year.
After students warned her that the new jobs had to lead to long-term contracts, Royal was quick to add that young people would have as much job protection as other employees.
A recent survey showed some 29 percent of voters under the age of 24 would vote for Sarkozy and 21 percent for Royal in the first round, broadly mirroring their overall score. In contrast centrist Francois Bayrou reached 29 percent among the young, compared with his overall rating of 19 percent.
Surveys also show marked differences among young voters according to their professional background, with Royal being the preferred candidate of unemployed youths.
INSIDER OR OUTSIDER?
Economist Eric Heyer said compared with other candidates, Royal's job plan was targeting youths in the suburbs directly.
"Bayrou and Sarkozy focus on improving the working conditions for those who have a job...for example with (Sarkozy's plan) to exempt overtime from taxes and social security charges," he said.
"Royal's (plan) rather focuses on those who are outside the market. Although her proposals are a bit vague," said Heyer from the OFCE think tank.
Heyer said many students knew that they stood good chances to eventually find a job with their degree. "The question for them is to have a quality job, a stable one...In the suburbs, the problem is ... simply to have a job."
Job hunter Michael Guendouze agreed.
"It's much harder for us to find work," said the 23-year old of Algerian origin, hanging out in front of a grey apartment block in a suburb of Chartres. "We're not getting any help. It's different when you live here. It's a ghetto. We're isolated."
Voter registration has risen sharply in poor suburbs, which were hit by France's worst civil unrest in 40 years in 2005.
And although youths there cite jobs are their prime concern, many say their vote will be driven by one factor only -- their anger about the tough law-and-order policies of Sarkozy at the times of the riots, when he was interior minister.
"It's important to vote to prevent Sarkozy," said Sall, adding he might vote Socialist. "But I'm not voting for Segolene, I'm voting against him," he said.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16