April 19 - As France's industrial decline takes centre stage in the Presidential election, it's highlighted the differing economic situation on either side of the French-German border. One cross-border scheme looks to match French job seekers with German vacancies. Joanna Partridge reports.
The Peugeot plant dominates the skyline of Sochaux in eastern France. For the past century, the plant's fortunes have determined the town's. Thirty years ago, 43,000 people worked here - now it's 13,000. Peugeot's vehicles look very different now too. CGT Union representative Bruno Lemerle says much has changed since he started work at the plant in 1979, partly because of austerity measures. SOUNDBITE: Bruno Lemerle, CGT Union representiave at Sochaux plant, saying (French): "It's more difficult for people to buy cars, so we are selling fewer. So that leads to a reduction in production. This reduced production was managed at one time by short-term work, and it's now managed by cutting the number of jobs and dismissing temporary workers." The layoffs have contributed to the town's unemployment rate. The mayor of Sochaux, Albert Matocq-Grabot, says 20% of residents don't have a job - that's double the national figure. SOUNDBITE: Albert Matocq-Grabot, Mayor of Sochaux, saying (French): "This unemployment rate leads to weak buying power and so people want to get a job and be able to buy things. They're all waiting for the result of the elections to bring about an improvement in this area." The problems of towns like Sochaux in France's industrial heartland have grabbed the attention of the Presidential candidates. President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande have put industrial decline and economic stagnation at the heart of their campaigns. Sarkozy has vowed to lower labour costs and Hollande to invest in innovation. PTC: It's just a short hop across the River Rhine from Germany to France. But the distance belies the marked difference in the economic situation on the two sides of the border here. In Freiburg unemployment is just 4% - over the border in France it's 11%. Boris Gourdial works for the German Employment Agency. Along with his French counterparts, he's trying to match jobless French workers with German vacancies. SOUNDBITE: Boris Gourdial, German Employment Agency, saying (German): "We have had some success, such as the so-calling job dating, and we are also working on projects with the French employment agency in Mulhouse, to inform citizens where there are job vacancies." Dominique Huard in Mulhouse on the French side also worked on the website - My Future Job. SOUNDBITE: Dominique Huard, Director of the French employment agency in Mulhouse, saying (French): "The whole idea is to learn how to work together in an employment pool, including Freiburg, which doesn't stop at the border." One obstacle is language, but some French job seekers are already learning German. In the ongoing euro zone debt crisis, this very European example of cross-border cooperation should bring benefits to both towns. Joanna Partridge, Reuters