Bosses at French bank Societe Generale gave up their stock options and the government said it might give new funds to support youth employment on Sunday in moves aimed at calming public discontent.

More than 3 million people took part in protests last Thursday over the government's handling of the economic crisis.

Many are angry that the state has made available billions of loans for big banks but done little to help consumers.

That anger intensified after SocGen said last week it had decided to award thousands of stock options to four top executives while the bank has been receiving state aid.

In order to stop the current controversy, we have decided to give up the benefit of these stock options, the four executives wrote in a letter to the bank's employees.

President Nicolas Sarkozy had said the awarding of stock options by the executives was a scandal and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde on Sunday urged them to give up the options.

French banks received 10.5 billion euros in aid in 2008, with SocGen taking a 1.7 billion slice, to help them weather the global credit squeeze and keep on lending.

It is high time Societe Generale got in step with public opinion, Lagarde said on Europe 1 radio.

She said the question of stock options needed to be looked at and the government would introduce legislation if it was deemed necessary after discussions with unions.


The government is juggling rescue plans for banks and companies and trying to keep a lid on social discontent.

The turnout for a day of rallies and demonstrations in cities across France on Thursday was the largest at any protest since Sarkozy's election in May 2007.

The government passed a 26 billion euro plan last year to boost investment and in February Sarkozy offered 2.65 billion euros of extra aid to households after a January 29 strike.

Unions want him to put more money behind the measures announced in February.

We are working on new measures, Lagarde told Europe 1 radio.

In the youth sector ... we probably need to finance more subsidized jobs than we did in 2008. That is planned for in the budget but maybe we need to make an extra effort.

But the budget was limited, she said.

In the overall framework of aid to small and medium-sized businesses, workers, banks, we doubled France's deficit which now exceeds 100 billion euros. We must be very careful.

The French economy this year faces its worst recession since World War Two. More than 2 million people are now out of work and, despite a recent fall in inflation, even those with a job have struggled with the high cost of living. The government has also created a strategic investment fund to help companies that run into difficulty.

Lagarde said the government was looking at ways to help niche car maker Heuliez, whose problems could lead to 1,000 job losses, but it was still too early to tap the fund.

(Additional reporting by Laure Bretton; editing by John Stonestreet, Richard Chang)