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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Austérité : Fillon inflige à la France le régime grec

by Sébastien Crépel

Prime Minister François Fillon inflicts the Greek austerity measures on France.

Translated Saturday 10 July 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Following denials, the government has confirmed its plans to impose new sacrifices on the French people to make them pay for capitalism’s crisis. Tomorrow (June 30), the ministers will examine 150 new measures to reduce public expenditure. One hundred thousand government jobs will be axed by 2013.

Blood, sweat and tears? For the editorial writer whose article appeared in [the right-wing] Le Figaro newspaper yesterday, things are clear: “The time has come to address Winston Churchill’s words to the French people.” After having denied the words of the general secretary at the French presidential palace, announcing in the British press the application of an additional turn of the screw to government finances, the government has indeed confirmed the austerity scenario. Tomorrow, a trainload of 150 measures to cut government spending are to be presented to the Council of Ministers, their goal being a return to a budget deficit level that is compatible with the European Stability Pact. The pact sets a ceiling of 3% of gross domestic product on government debt, as against the present 8% level in France. This austerity policy is to be the subject of a government declaration on the orientation of public finances with a vote by the National Assembly set for July 6.

Among the measures, one finds a 10 percent cut in government operating expenses, including a “5-percent cut right from the first year,” which should result in the axing of an additional 100,000 civil service jobs between 2011 and 2013, following a cut of the same size realized between 2007 and 2010 in line with the General Review of Public Policy (RGPP). Thus, the staffing of central offices should be reduced by 10%. The plan had already been revealed last week by the business newspaper les Echos, with the cuts spread out in slices of 34,000 jobs a year. According to government figures, this massive reduction in government employment should provide savings of 3 billion euros a year beginning in 2013, following the “increase” of 7 billion euros realized with the first slice of the RGPP. The national education system – although it is in mid-crisis following the budget cuts of the past years – is to pay a heavy tribute, with the shedding of another 16,000 jobs, according to Budget Minister François Baroin.

In addition to staff cuts, credits for “intervention” are also in the gun sights – in other words, various aid packages and subsidies in the areas “of housing, aid to companies, national defense and even national education,” according to Prime Minister François Fillon. “Everybody has got to make an effort,” François Baroin insisted, for his part. In plain English, this means that even the most sensitive budget items will be affected, like those devoted to employment or aid to impoverished countries.

Germany as model.

On top of the cuts in government employment, civil servants who keep their jobs will also be asked to agree to new sacrifices. Whereas they have already had to make sacrifices in line with the fall in their purchasing power over the past years, a wage freeze is under study, which may even include the 0.5% annual pay hike promised for July 1 (see accompanying article).

Even though the government is performing verbal gymnastics to avoid saying the words, France is being subjected to a veritable austerity policy, coupled with a drastic austerity plan – a carbon copy of the German model being followed by a number of European countries.

“Yes, we have made it!” cries out Jean-François Copé, the leader of the right-wing UMP party deputies, in the newspaper Le Monde. He “claims the title of having been the first to say that an austerity policy was needed.” Copé recommends going even further, by implementing a “carrot-and-stick” policy on the financing of local governments to incite them “to reduce their expenses.”

For his part, François Fillon warns that the budget cuts may not have the imagined beneficial effect on economic growth. Should growth prove to be “less dynamic than expected, we should not back down from making the necessary additional efforts.” Decoded, that means the French people may be asked to make additional sacrifices in the near future. It is an admission of the expected failure of the government’s policy, as many voices have warned that austerity may strangle a possible economic recovery in the cradle. It also indicates that the government intends to continue, stubbornly, in its present policies.

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