French parliament heads for summer break after reform push

3rd August 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 3, 2007 (AFP) - The French parliament broke up for a three-week recess Thursday after an extraordinary summer session that ushered in the first phase of President Nicolas Sarkozy's promised reform drive.

PARIS, Aug 3, 2007 (AFP) - The French parliament broke up for a three-week recess Thursday after an extraordinary summer session that ushered in the first phase of President Nicolas Sarkozy's promised reform drive.

On Thursday the centre-right-dominated Senate and National Assembly adopted a government-backed law to limit the fall-out of public sector transport strikes, which have brought much of the country to a standstill in the past.

One of Sarkozy's campaign promises -- and backed by 70 percent of the public -- the reform bill sparked street protests from trade unions on the grounds that it breaks the constitutional right to strike.

The most contested clause is one that obliges workers to declare 48 hours ahead of a stoppage if they intend to take part. Another clause requires a secret ballot of workers after eight days on whether to continue a strike.

Unions have promised demonstrations against the law after the summer, possibly during the Rugby World Cup, while the opposition Socialist Party has said it will seek to have it repealed by France's Constitutional Council.

Three other major reform packages were adopted during the month-long session of parliament, extended into the summer following Sarkozy's election in May and June legislative polls which handed his UMP party a parliamentary majority.

On Wednesday, lawmakers adopted a government tax-cutting package whose main provision is to remove tax and social charges from overtime hours -- a measure which Sarkozy says is meant to restore an appetite for work among the French.

It also abolishes inheritance tax for all but the very wealthy; places a 50 percent ceiling on income tax; introduces tax relief for household mortgage-payers; and restricts so-called "golden parachutes" paid to departing company bosses.

MPs from the opposition Socialist Party describe the law as a series of "gifts to the rich" and are also seeking to have it repealed by the Constitutional Council.

The government estimates the annual cost of the tax cuts at around 13.8 billion euros (18.75 billion dollars), but says they should generate an extra half percent of economic growth in 2008.

Also Wednesday, parliament adopted a bill giving greater autonomy to French public universities -- which have plummeted in recent years on international league tables -- by allowing them to raise funds and hire their own staff.

Lawmakers also adopted a reform of criminal law that toughens sentences for young offenders, sponsored by Justice Minister Rachida Dati, the first Muslim politician to hold a top French government job.

The bill establishes minimum sentences for repeat offenders, and allows courts to treat 16 to 18 year-olds accused of serious offences as adults, also a key election pledge made by Sarkozy.

After the government returns to work on August 24, a second phase of reforms is planned, including a new standard work contract, and an immigration bill to make it harder for foreigners to join families in France.

The government has has promised that the second round of reforms will be accompanied by cost-cutting measures including a reduction in the number of civil servants, and economies in the state administration.

AFP

Subject: French news

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