Jean-Marc Ayrault has become the primary target of the Right. He already filled that role as the head of a government whose ministers made repeated gaffes, or launched private trial balloons. Each time, he would call the offending minister on the carpet. But now Ayrault himself is the gaffeur, having announced his readiness to debate a return to the 39-hour legal work week. The Right is overjoyed. They see an imminent and ignominious end to the Ayrault government.
Of course there is no issue more highly symbolic than the 39-hour week, even if myth and reality have never coincided on the subject. Here is Denis Kessler, a lontime enemy, rehearsing the Right's indictment. The litany of charges is a mixture of truth and falsehood, and the fact is that French workers average over 39 hours of work per week, while German workers average just over 40. Unit labor costs have not diverged dramatically.
But none of this matters. What counts is the belief, almost universal on the Right, that the Left wrecked the economy with a massive vote pander that achieved nothing in the way of job creation. Ayrault may not have conceded the point, but he might as well have, and the government's attempt to walk back his remarks, starting with Michel Sapin's fatuous contention that Ayrault was merely inviting others to debate the issue and not promising an open mind on the subject himself, simply invited ridicule.
There is no decent way out of this morass, so Hollande had better just move ahead with his program, if he has one.