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Row over French Unemployment Figures

Tuesday 20 February 2007

The French National Statistical Office has postponed publication of jobless figures until after the presidential elections. The decision has provoked a major row between politicians of left and right, with reports that the figures due to be reported were higher than the government's own figures.

With the French unemployment rate reaching over 10% in 2004, an improvement in this figure has been the very public top priority of the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Over the past year or so, against the backdrop of a stream of initiatives, the unemployment figure has been going down, and last month reached 8.6%.

However, each year the French National Statistical Office INSEE produce their own figures independently of the government but, this year, publication of the figures has been postponed until the autumn as a result of 'technical difficulties'.

The INSEE figures are calculated on a different basis to those of the government, whose own figures come from ANPE, the national employment agency.

The argument has taken on an even wider significance with the publication of a detailed study by a body of researchers and trade unions, claiming the reduction in unemployment figures has been brought about mainly by administrative changes in the calculation of the figures, and not by job creation.

The researchers claim that, out of five people whose names are removed from the official unemployment register, only two actually go into employment.

For its part the government denies any intervention in the INSEE decision, and accepts there are imperfections in the calculation of the figures. However, they argue that, whatever figures are used, the level of unemployment is coming down in France.

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