The French jobless rate fell to 7.9% of the workforce in the third quarter of this year from 8.1% in the second quarter, new data shows today.

High unemployment has been a central issue in France for more than a decade and the fall of the rate below 8%, under a new calculation, comes against election promises by right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy to break with past policies.

The figures, from the statistics office INSEE and based on International Labour Organisation definitions of unemployment, were an initial estimate for mainland France and showed 2.2 million people actively looking for work. The jobless rate for the third quarter last year was 8.9%, INSEE said.

Following a government-commissioned review, the unemployment  total under ILO definitions is now calculated on a quarterly basis  rather than each month.

The Labour Ministry is continuing to publish monthly unemployment figures based on jobless claims recorded by the public employment service.