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Europe

Jobless in Germany? Head to France

As Chancellor Merkel meets President Chirac on "German-French Day," an exchange of another kind is taking place on the Franco-German border -- young German jobseekers are being urged to try their luck in France.

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Will German jobseekers head to Alsace next to work?

Every morning there's a long traffic jam on the Rhinebrücken near Karlsruhe, in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg and on the border to France.

Most of it involves the more than 28,000 commuters from the French region of Alsace on their way to work in Baden-Württemberg. Unwilling to work for the French minimum wage, also known as SMIC, many in Alsace have decided to earn their bread and butter in Germany instead.

But, soon, if the German labor agency in Karlsruhe has its way, the job migration could be headed in the other direction too.

"German wages and salaries have gone down, the SMIC has risen and is even higher than salaries in some German companies," said Sylvia Müller-Wolff, a consultant at the Karlsruhe labor agency.

"And that's the reason why it's suddenly interesting to work in France."

Less bureaucracy, higher wages

To further highlight the attractiveness of France as a place to work, the French cultural center in Karlsruhe on Monday, on "German-French day," organized an event called "Living and Working in France."

Chirac und Merkel

Will the Angela-Jacques chemistry translate into exchange on the ground too?

As Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to Versailles near Paris to meet with President Jacques Chirac and talk foreign policy and EU issues, authorities in Karlsruhe are hoping for a more informal exchange on the ground.

Müller-Wolff attempts to convince some 300 students who have gathered at the French cultural center in Karlsruhe of the benefits of gaining some valuable work experience in neighboring France at a minimum wage of a current eight euros and three cents.

"You don't need a work permit in France, in fact you don't even need a residence permit," Müller-Wolff said. "That means you can work there in exactly the same way you would in Hamburg or Munich and even registration and the like is done by your employer, it's no problem."

Cultural differences pose hitches

Katrin Pikisch echoes the view. The 26-year-old worked for three months in the Alsace-based French company Brugger, which produces medical equipment, as part of her training as a foreign trade assistant.

Pikisch has great memories of her time in Elsace and underlines that it was only because of her working stint abroad that she managed to land a good job in Germany when she returned.

But Pikisch is clear that she wouldn't want to live and work there indefinitely.

"I am flexible and mobile, but I prefer Germany. France is great for a vacation naturally as well as its culture and I'm still friends with my then French colleagues," said Pikisch. "But at the moment I'm very happy in my job to consider a change."

At the same time Pikisch said that the hierarchy in French firms was extremely tough.

Sylvia Müller-Wolff admitted too that there cultural differences between French and German companies and that students had to be prepared for them.

"If you're talking to a superior, then please address him with 'Monsieur le President' or 'Monsieur du Pont' and just learn to live with the fact that he'll call you by your first name," said Müller-Wolff. "But don't automatically think: yeah, he said Georges to me so I can call him by the first name too."

Internships rather than jobs

So far, however there haven't been too many takers for the "Living and Working in France" program.

Sebastian Krämer, who's already finished high school, wants to head over to the other side of the river Rhine as soon as possible, but only for a short internship.

"I want to go South, to the sea. For instance, there's Airbus in the South. Or maybe to one of the carmakers: Peugeot, Citroen or something like that," Krämer said. "Or maybe even sell wine."

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