French pharmacists, notaries strike against 'absurd' reforms

30th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

From pharmacists to doctors, notaries and bailiffs, self-employed French professionals went on strike Tuesday over planned reforms to deregulate their jobs and make their often costly services more affordable.

The latest strike to hit the country after a record stayaway by pilots crippled Air France, comes as President Francois Hollande warned there were "no painless" ways to reform France's stagnant economy.

In Paris, white-coated pharmacists shut up shop and headed for a protest outside the upper house Senate, as unions estimated only 10 percent of dispensaries would be open across the country.

The pharmacists are leading the charge of self-employed professionals angry over the "growth plan" proposed in July by former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, which could reduce their fees and dilute their monopolies.

Montebourg -- removed in a cabinet reshuffle last month -- said the aim of the reform was to put some six billion euros ($7.6 billion) in purchasing power back into French pockets.

A report by the finance ministry published by Les Echos newspaper in July showed the hefty prices of some particularly lucrative professions could be cut by up to 20 percent if certain reforms were made.

One proposal that has angered doctors is a plan to lift a cap on the number of medical students at universities.

Pharmacists fear the reforms could open up the non-prescription medicines market and see them sold in supermarkets which could drive down their prices. It is currently not possible to buy any drugs, even headache tablets, outside of pharmacies in France.

Doctors, physiotherapists, dentists, notaries and lawyers are also backing the strike.

However newly-appointed Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron appears to have backed down from the reform, delaying it until 2015 and seeking to appease fears.

Macron said Tuesday many of the fears over the reform were down to "misunderstandings".

However the president of the main union for self-employed professionals UNAPL, Michel Chassang, said the government had "shown no sign of openness and persists in wanting to keep an absurd reform."

Montebourg's steep criticism of French austerity measures prompted the August cabinet reshuffle.

The country is grappling with a dire economic outlook, with growth at a standstill and sky-high unemployment.

Also on Tuesday hundreds of pensioners took to the streets across France to protest a drop in their purchasing power, after government announced there would be no rise in pension payouts due to very low inflation.

"There is no painless savings plan, otherwise it would already have been done," Hollande said. "Savings are inevitably painful. No sector can accept seeing its habits, sometimes its finances, challenged."

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© 2014 AFP

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