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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Élysée bricole un plan de plus pour l’outre-mer

by Rosa Moussaoui

The French Presidency Cobbles Together Yet Another Plan for the Overseas Departements and Territories

Translated Thursday 12 November 2009, by Gene Zbikowski

On Nov. 6, French president Nicolas Sarkozy presented the measures put forward at the close of the fact-finding hearings on the French overseas départements and territories. The hearings were decided on last Spring. It was an opportunity to recycle old remedies: competition, tax breaks, and gifts to the employers.

It took ten long months, following the development of an unprecedented social crisis in the overseas départements, for the government to unveil its “plan to modernize the overseas départements and territories,” a plan the French president had promised in February. Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy presided over an inter-ministerial meeting on the question before presenting, at the presidential palace, the 137 measures put forward by the fact-finding hearings on the French overseas départements and territories. The hearings had been decided on as a measure to soothe anger following the 44-day general strike on Guadeloupe and the 33-day general strike on Martinique. In the French presidency’s view, these measures concern “the reinforcement of private-sector competition, the development and structuring of local industries, the modification of the rules of governance, a better integration of the territories in their regional environment, and concrete improvements to guarantee equal opportunity.” This amounts to taking note of the damning social and economic situation revealed by the labor and social movements in the Spring, while remaining within the bounds of the free trade policies whose consequences have been disastrous. This comes at a time when the social situation has worsened in the overseas départements and when the unemployment rate, already twice to three times the rate in continental France, has jumped by 15% in one year.

Thus Nicolas Sarkozy has promised “energetic measures” to “reinforce competition” in order to fight against “the high cost of living.” He pled for “a locally-developed economic model which is likely to favor the creation of wealth and of local jobs.” Finally, as regards politics, he defended the opening of a “historic new cycle, marked by a new and improved relationship with continental France.” But, he warned, “these territories are a part of France, and they will remain so.” The policies of tax breaks and gifts to the employers, which inspired the law on the development of the overseas départements and territories (Lodeom) which was voted in the Spring, remain the cornerstone of overseas policy. An example is the fact that, of the 118 million euros in additional credits that the French National Assembly voted Wednesday for the overseas départements and territories, 92.7 million euros will be devoted to state-funded social security contributions to offset exemptions for employers. On the other hand, the deputies decided to cut the bonus from the employment bonus the 200-euro wage increase won by the strikers in the overseas départements. Half of that wage increase is being paid by the government for a three-year period in the form of a modified Revenu de solidarité active (RSA). The RSA is a form of social welfare. “Dead calm! No meaningful change. This is what strikes you right off the bat when you read the overseas budget for 2010, and which is startling when you contrast its tranquility with the strength and sweep of the social movements which made themselves heard,” commented the communist deputy from Reunion, Huguette Bello, in the National Assembly.

For their parts, the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (Alliance against profiteering) on Guadeloupe and the February 5 Collective on Martinique continue to accuse the French government of “not respecting the commitments” undertaken in March with regard to wages, prices, youth training and employment.

In sum, the promises of the Sarkozy plan remain far below the “restructure of relations between the overseas départements and continental France” which the senate commission on the overseas départements holds to be indispensable. In a report published in July, 2009, the senate commission criticized “the blind conduct of public policy” and called for “a struggle against false ideas and pernicious clichés” in order to embark on “the effective consideration of specific conditions” in the overseas départements.”

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