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French Aren't Buying Sarkozy's Purchasing Power Promise

 


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When the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy's, came to power in May last year, one of his major campaign promises was that he would increase the purchasing power of the average man and woman on the street here in France.

And in all of his reforming policies over the past 15 months it has been one of the most often-repeated pledges.

With no sign of that actually happening, the French are beginning to question his government's ability to deliver on that promise. And the latest opinion poll published in one of the country's leading regional newspapers over the weekend, Dimanche-Ouest France, makes pretty grim reading for ministers as they get back to work after their summer break.

According to a survey carried out by the Institut français d'opinion publique (Ifop), 82 per cent of those questioned said they didn't have confidence in the government's ability to increase purchasing power.

And there's a general pessimism about things getting better any time in the near future, with only 37 per cent saying they remained “optimistic" as opposed to 53 per cent at the end of last year.

The general feeling also seems to be backed up by other figures. Those for example which reflect a change in the way the French holiday. This is a country which traditionally has a reputation for closing down for two months over the summer.

Although summer isn't quite over yet (in spite of what the weather would have us believe) there's plenty of recent evidence around that the French have spent it busily counting their hard-earned centimes. Another Ifop poll at the end of July showed that 42 per cent of them had decided not to go on holiday this year. And according to Protourisme - an organisation representing France's hoteliers - the usually buoyant domestic French tourist industry has also been hit with overnight stays during July and August expected to witness a drop of two per cent over the same period last year.

Of course opinion polls don't tell the whole story. There's always a margin of error, but in these days where spin is an important part of political life this latest “purchasing power" survey won't make the government's job any easier in convincing the public that its policies are working, even as it prepares to push through a raft of reforms for parliamentary approval in the autumn.

In June it launched a media blitz campaign spending €4 million of taxpayers’ money on a television and press campaign to explain how it was going to win the battle to increase purchasing power. But apparently people still remain unconvinced.

While some would argue that it's up to individuals to create their own wealth and not the role of the state, the French government has passed a series of measures that are supposed to create those very conditions for economic growth.

They've included a relaxation of the country's 35-hour working week, which many economists agreed had put something of a stranglehold on the French labour market ever since it was introduced 10 years ago, and a reform to employment laws making overtime possible and giving people the chance to (in the words of Sarkozy's often repeated mantra) “work more to earn more. "

If the public remains unconvinced, the economic figures don't exactly help either. According to a report in the weekly news magazine L'Express, the gross domestic product is now expected to see a projected growth of one per cent in 2008 - less than had been hoped. And although the magazine says evidence from the European Commission points to the contrary, the prime minister, François Fillon, maintains France is on target to reduce the public deficit from 2.7 to 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of the year.

Still to continue process of reform and find the money to invest in social policies and transportation for example, the government needs money. Money that by its own admission it simply doesn't have and hasn't had since introducing a fiscal package costing a cool €13 billion in August last year, shortly after coming to power, which critics claim benefitted primarily the already better off by reducing inheritance tax.

Increases in the price of fuel and the consequent rise in the cost of a range of household products are of course not confined to France.

When it comes to public opinion people in this country (as in any other) don't really want to hear about global explanations to the problem. They want the government to address the everyday issues that effect them.

Little wonder then that with no money available to boost the economy and certainly none around for general tax breaks, the French are “feeling the pinch. " And it's no surprise that they are also pretty gloomy about the future for a country in which half the population earns less than €1,500 per month when the best they're likely to be offered, at least in the short term, is more belt tightening.

Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com

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