PositionJose Manuel Barroso, Jacques Chirac, European Union

Jacques Chirac's appeal this week for European Union assistance offers a graphic confrontation of practice with theory. The French are locked in hand-to-hand combat with Hewlett-Packard over redundancy plans, just as the European Commission is discussing how Europe should cope with globalisation.

The French President is understandably concerned that France is threatened with a large share of the US company's European job cuts. The disturbingly high rate of unemployment in France will be aggravated, directly and indirectly, by this scaling down of activities cruelly, in a high-technology sector.

But the EU response is limited. While acknowledging the "destabilising effect" of large-scale redundancies, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso admitted that the Commission can do little: it can encourage companies to comply with the rules governing lay-offs, and it can offer support for retraining of staff that are fired. But it has no powers at all to prevent Hewlett-Packard from dismissing workers.

Instead, Barroso has been promoting his big picture of where Europe should go. "Globalisation is here to stay, whether we like it or not", he said, in the wake of his one-day seminar with his fellow Commissioners, grandiosely entitled "the future of Europe".

This doesn't amount to a very sympathetic approach to the immediate problems of French employees facing this new threat. The gap is all the wider since Chirac justified EU intervention on the grounds that...

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