French President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government is trying to prevent a series of high-profile industrial shutdowns and mass layoffs, less than four months before a presidential election increasingly focused on the nation's economic decline.

On Monday, a Paris commercial court ordered the liquidation of Channel ferry operator SeaFrance, threatening more than 800 jobs. About 550 oil sector workers are also facing redundancy with the likely closure of a French refinery owned by troubled Swiss firm Petroplus
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With companies entrenching for a recession, Sarkozy is to host a jobs summit on January 18 with unions and employers' bodies. Sarkozy hopes to secure a consensus on loosening strict labour regulations at least temporarily so firms can adjust to the downturn by trimming workers' hours rather than laying them off.

Reflecting economic problems across the developed world, heavy job cuts are also likely at banks Societe Generale , Natixis and Credit Agricole , which said last month it will shut its commodities trading business and cut 2,350 jobs in investment banking.

With unemployment claims at a 12-year high, the government is anxious to avoid further layoffs that could tarnish Sarkozy's

record before the elections in April and May when he is expected to seek a second five-year term.

Sarkozy said his transport and environment ministers would hold talks with SeaFrance staff and the court-appointed liquidator on Tuesday to look at options for the state to help.

A solution is possible and the government will do everything it can in any case to make sure that's how it happens, Sarkozy said on a visit to Berlin.

Monday's court ruling could open the way for special layoff indemnities for employees that would allow them to take over the company's assets in line with a government plan.

The board of state-owned rail operator SNCF, which owns SeaFrance, approved a 36 million euro (29.7 million pound) payout on Monday for employees who are fired. SNCF also committed itself to finding jobs for SeaFrance employees elsewhere in the group, it said in a statement.

Environment Minister Nathalie Kociusko-Morizet told TF1 news that shipping company Louis Dreyfus Armateurs had put forward an offer to employ 300 of SeaFrance's staff to ensure the Calais-Dover ferry route remained running.

Sarkozy also faces the threat of the closure of Petroplus's Petit Couronne plant after the firm's lenders extended a freeze on its credit lines.

Workers are considering strike action unless authorities step in with a plan to safeguard the 550 jobs at the plant near the northwestern city of Rouen.

Industry Minister Eric Besson was due to meet the workers on Monday. However, Socialist presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande, who leads Sarkozy in opinion polls, has already visited the plant along with other candidates to denounce industrial closures.

Eager to spoil Sarkozy's jobs summit, Hollande said on Sunday that he would meet union leaders this week before unveiling his political programme.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by Geert De Clercq and David Stamp)