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French unemployment hits new record high in December

Philippe Huguen, AFP I A woman waits at a French Pole Emploi employment agency on August 27, 2014 in Armentieres

Unemployment in France rose by 0.2 percent, or 8,100 people, in December to reach a new record high, with a total of 3.496 million people claiming benefits, according to official statistics published on Tuesday.

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The latest official unemployment rates come at the end of a difficult year for France’s economy. Overall in 2014, there were 189,100 more people out of work than in the previous year, or an increase of 5.7 percent.

President François Hollande has pledged not to seek re-election in 2017 if he fails to lower high unemployment.

France's economy is barely growing, showing a gain of just 0.3 percent in the third quarter of last year.

The government in Paris is banking on a lower oil price and a weaker euro – which makes exports cheaper – to kick-start the economy and is banking on 0.4 percent growth for the whole year.

Nevertheless, most economists believe that France, the eurozone's second largest economy, needs a growth rate of around 1.5 percent to create jobs.

Hollande has launched a two-pronged attack on unemployment.

The first is known as the Responsibility Pact, a series of tax cuts for business in return for job creation.

The second is a package of reforms aimed at opening up France's closed economy, including extending the number of Sundays per year when stores can open their doors.

However, both reforms are hugely controversial, with the latter in particular bringing thousands out onto the streets in protest.

"The full deployment of the Responsibility Pact and an improvement of the economic environment will boost employment in 2015," the labour ministry said in a statement.

"Whatever happens, the government will not let up in its efforts."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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