National Assembly reconvenes with packed reform agenda

26th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 26, 2007 (AFP) - French law-makers returned to the National Assembly for the first time since presidential and parliamentary elections Tuesday, with a packed agenda to implement President Nicolas Sarkozy's social and economic reforms.

PARIS, June 26, 2007 (AFP) - French law-makers returned to the National Assembly for the first time since presidential and parliamentary elections Tuesday, with a packed agenda to implement President Nicolas Sarkozy's social and economic reforms.

Sarkozy's centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) won a clear majority in the legislature in elections nine days ago, though the Socialist Party (PS) did better than expected and forms a numerically strong opposition.

The Assembly will conduct routine business over the first few days -- including electing the parliamentary speaker and making appointments to key committees -- before debating a first phase of Sarkozy's reform programme from next week.

Elected on May 6 ahead of the Socialist Segolene Royal, Sarkozy had promised a special session of the Assembly for July in order to move ahead quickly with his manifesto pledges.

The first measure for discussion will be an 11-billion-euro (15-billion-dollar) tax and finance package designed to "shock" the economy back to life.

The bill's centre-piece is a proposal to exempt overtime work from tax and social security charges, allowing employers to skirt the 35-hour working week.     Another clause allows taxpayers to deduct interest on household mortgage payments from their tax bill -- a change Sarkozy has said will encourage homebuyers.

The bill also exonerates nine out of 10 French people from paying inheritance tax, and introduces restrictions on "golden handshake" payments to top executives.

Two other proposals up for debate before the Assembly breaks up in early August are a crime bill toughening penalities for repeat offenders, and a "minimum service" law intended to ensure that trains and buses continue to run during public sector strikes.

A fourth bill would give greater autonomy to French universities, which have plummeted in recent years on international league tables.

First drafts of this contentious piece of legislation provoked an outcry from students' unions, and Sarkozy has undertaken a new round of negotiations in order to find a compromise by next week.  

After the summer a second phase of reforms is planned, which will include a new standard work contract, and an immigration bill to make it harder for foreigners to join families in France.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon 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.

The UMP and its centrist ally the New Centre won 339 seats in the new Assembly, compared to 198 for the Socialist party and its ally the Radical Left Party.

The Communists have 17 seats, Greens four, and the MoDem centre party of third-placed presidential candidate Francois Bayrou five. The far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen has none.


Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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