PARIS, March 27 A top French court knocked down
a law on Thursday that would have imposed hefty fines on healthy
companies which closed factories, deeming it unconstitutional in
a setback for its champion, President Francois Hollande.
The Socialist Hollande pushed the law through parliament in
October to regain support from blue-collar workers disappointed
over what many perceived to be market-friendly reforms
implemented during his first months in power.
It would have required firms with more than 1,000 employees
to prove they had exhausted all options for selling a factory
before closing it down. Stiff fines were foreseen for firms
which failed to prove they had done enough to find a buyer.
Such requirements would "impose burdens on companies'
business decisions... that amount to an unconstitutional
infringement on property rights and freedom of enterprise," the
Constitutional Court wrote in a statement.
Business leaders had criticised the "Florange" law, named
after a steelworks in northern France where Hollande, during his
2012 campaign for the presidency, told workers would pass
legislation to protect their jobs in case of a shutdown.
It would have allowed commercial courts to fine firms up to
20 times the minimum wage (1,430 euros or $1,900) per worker
laid off if the sale of a factory was found to be unjustified.
Such penalties were "out of proportion with the seriousness
of the targeted behaviour," the court wrote.
With joblessness still above 10 percent despite billions of
euros spent on subsidised jobs for youths, Hollande's approval
ratings have fallen further since October to reach their lowest
level for any French president since World War Two.
Frustration over joblessness contributed to the Socialist
Party's poor showing in the first round of local elections on
Sunday and helped the far-right National Front party make strong
gains, notably in blue-collar areas.
Marine Le Pen's National Front seized the town hall of
Henin-Beaumont, a former Socialist bastion in northern France,
and the party is positioned to win several more in the second
round on Sunday.
(Reporting By Emile Picy; Writing by Nicholas Vinocur; editing
by John Irish and Andrew Callus)