France's new prime minister vowed Wednesday to wage war on unemployment and produce quick results to show voters he understood the discontent that fueled their rejection of the European Union constitution.
Dominique de Villepin said creating jobs, the number one concern of voters, would be his priority as prime minister as he and President Jacques Chirac added the finishing touches to a government intended to restore voters' morale in 100 days.
As he spoke, state rail company SNCF began a 36-hour strike that provided him with his first big test and underscored the depth of discontent in France over jobs, pay and working conditions.
"We must hear the message the French people sent on May 29," de Villepin told TF1 television in his first detailed comments about policy since Chirac named him on Tuesday in the aftermath of France's rejection Sunday of the E.U. charter.
"It is a message of concern about the situation in Europe in the face of globalization and about the situation in France."
Acknowledging that he had little time to prove himself, de Villepin added: "The fight for jobs is going to be the priority of this government, and I will lead it personally."
He gave no details, and critics say Chirac has been so thoroughly discredited after 10 years in power that the new government has little chance of success in the two years remaining before presidential and parliamentary elections.
"We have a president at the end of his reign," said Francois Hollande, head of the opposition Socialist Party.
Making the fight against 10.2 percent unemployment his top priority, de Villepin was quoted by a party ally as telling senators earlier Wednesday: "I give myself 100 days to restore the confidence of the French people."
The bitter campaign for the E.U. constitution, which would give more economic and political power to the bloc, has split the French people and plunged France and the 25-nation union into crisis. Dutch citizens voted against the charter Wednesday.
Official figures Tuesday showed that French households' confidence in the future was at its lowest level since at least February 2003. Hundreds of thousands of people have protested against government economic policies in recent months.
The SNCF rail strike, planned before de Villepin was appointed, began Wednesday evening. SNCF expected about 60 percent of its long-distance trains to be canceled on Thursday. Regional trains into Paris would also be disrupted, it said.