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PARIS (Reuters) - The French government Sunday showed the first signs of retreat in a row over efforts by President Nicolas Sarkozy's undergraduate son to secure a plum job overseeing development of Paris's business district. The plan to put 23-year-old Jean Sarkozy in charge of the agency, which aims to transform La Defence into a financial hub to rival the City of London, has caused an outcry over preferential treatment for Sarkozy junior, dubbed the "dauphin," or crown prince, in the national press. Sunday, government spokesman Luc Chatel was quick to seize a lifeline thrown by socialist parliamentarian Gaetan Gorce in a radio broadcast. Gorce said the government could avoid a conflict of interest if the ministerial representatives on the board of EPAD, the public agency in question, were to abstain from the vote. That would make Jean Sarkozy's election as president of the agency more uncertain by shifting the political balance of the board to the left. "I note that in the past, there have been times when the state's representatives did not participate in the vote," Chatel said in the same radio program on Europe 1. "So, in order to ensure clarity and transparency, one could very well imagine that the state's representatives will not take part in this vote." This would leave four right-wing elected officials, four left-wing elected officials and a representative from the chamber of commerce to vote on Jean Sarkozy's expected candidacy. The younger Sarkozy, taller than his father but with similar mannerisms and ambition, is a second year law student and a councillor in the wealthy Hauts-de-Seine department just outside Paris. President Sarkozy built his own political career in that leafy suburb and used to head the EPAD agency himself until just before his election as president in 2007. He and his son have said the attacks are unjustified and that Jean Sarkozy will prove his worth independently of his famous name. But even politicians from within Sarkozy's ruling UMP party have voiced concerns the plan will hurt their electoral chances as surveys show most French people oppose it. (Reporting by Yves Clarisse, writing by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

Reuters