Fillon lays out his strategy for a 'modern France'

Published July 3rd 2007 in International Herald Tribune
Prime Minister François Fillon said Tuesday that his government planned to lay the foundations for a modern France with a new approach to democracy and new policies in all areas of national life to make the country competitive.

"We must rewrite our political, social and cultural contract," Fillon told lawmakers, outlining his government's general policies - marked by vast ambitions in the economic realm, including lowering unemployment from 8.1 percent now to 5 percent - for the next five years.

"There is a cancer at the heart of the national crisis: mass unemployment," Fillon said, adding that it not only cut production and broke the national morale but also blocked integration and fed extremism.

Fillon, chosen after President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in May to succeed Jacques Chirac, said no government had managed to stop what he called "the slow spiral downward" that has left France 16th on a list of riches per inhabitant compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Past governments have failed to reverse the trend because they did not dare "to break this vicious circle of working less and less and becoming more and more indebted," Fillon said.

He announced plans for major changes in the social sector.

A vote of confidence was to be held later Tuesday, a traditional formality with no risk that Fillon's conservative majority would lose.

Sector by sector, Fillon spelled out his government's goals, an exercise of all new prime ministers. With the proposed changes, he made clear there would be a break with the past to allow a more modern France to emerge.

"With Nicolas Sarkozy, the French took their destiny in their hands," Fillon said, adding, "They laid the foundations for a new France."

Fillon said he envisaged a constitutional revision to make way for institutional changes, including a revamping of the voting law, apparently with some proportional representation, that would allow smaller parties to be represented in Parliament.

He extended his hand to minorities in France, mostly Muslim and African citizens and immigrants, announcing a plan to attack the deficit in education with smaller school classes in tough neighborhoods and more tutors, training and job search help.

Fillon also reiterated the new policy set out by Sarkozy on immigration, saying authorities would be selective about who came to France, and would fight illegal immigration networks and work by illegal immigrants "because I see there a modern form of trafficking in humans."

He promised to increase growth a notch, apparently aiming to raise it from 2 percent to 3 percent a year.

Universities will be given more autonomy, he said, touching on one of the more sensitive changes planned.

Following the failed weekend terror attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, Fillon said that nothing would be neglected in security matters in France. He said France might consider the use of widespread surveillance cameras, as is done in Britain. "We will evaluate the benefits," he said.