Sarkozy calls crisis jobs summit with eye on election
PARIS PRESIDENT Nicolas Sarkozy staged a pre-election crisis summit on Wednesday to try and boost the French economy as recession looms and nearly three million people hunt for employment.
The so-called “social summit” came just five days after Standard and Poor’s downgraded France’s credit rating and dealt a severe blow to the right-winger’s hopes of getting re-elected three months from now.
The leaders of the five main unions and three employers’ groups sat down around a table in the president’s Elysee palace along with Sarkozy, his prime minister and six ministers.
“The gravity of the crisis obliges us to make decisions,” Sarkozy told them, according to a text provided by his office.
He made no precise proposals in the speech but repeated his “total determination to act on the financial transaction tax” and congratulated himself on having “already convinced Germany and Europe” on the issue.
The president was due to present them with his plans to try to make French firms more competitive by cutting payroll taxes, make working hours more flexible and reduce unemployment from its current 9.8 percent, a 12- year high.
“The question is clear,” Sarkozy said Tuesday during a visit to the southern Ariege region.
“Will French society choose employment, and thus growth and competitivity? Or will French society make a short term choice, believing that we can continue to finance a social model with deficits and public spending?” he asked.
Sarkozy is pinning his hopes on Wednesday’s summit to reverse the poll ratings that put him in second place behind his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande and just ahead of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
But unions oppose his “social tax” plan, which would cut payroll charges on employers and workers and recoup the revenue mainly by raising sales tax.
They are against measures that would hit consumers’ pockets at a time when the economic outlook is grim and the country expected to fall into recession.
Jean-Claude Mailly, the leader of Force Ouvriere union, reiterated his opposition before he went into the meeting, denouncing the “economically and socially dangerous logic” of Sarkozy’s arguments.
“One cannot deal with the issue of financing social protection just like that, in three weeks,” he said.
Francois Chereque, CFDT union leader, also expressed doubt about the social tax and regretted that Sarkozy was trying to rush through reforms. He said he expected little to come out of the summit.
Sarkozy has challenged unions and employers to come up with “daring proposals” to improve France’s competitivity and boost employment.