No austerity measures for France: Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday rejected the claim that his government was adopting austerity measures after it announced a three-year spending freeze.
"We have a clear objective, which is to clean up our public finances," Sarkozy told a meeting of union and business leaders at the Elysee palace.
"That was our objective before the financial crisis and it remains so. We have not changed tack. We are maintaining our strategy."
Prime Minister Francois Fillon last week announced a freeze on public spending for the coming three years, from 2011 to 2013, to get France's soaring budget deficit under control.
Opposition politicians accused the government of opting for an austerity programme and said ordinary families would have to brace for painful cuts.
"Some of our partner countries, which are under threat, have announced austerity measures. Some see a similar shift in our economic policy. But I reject this interpretation," said Sarkozy.
"We must not implement a policy of austerity, but rather a responsible policy. There is credibility at stake."
Like most European Union countries, France has seen its deficit exceed the EU limit of three percent of output as it has taken costly measures to climb out of recession. Its deficit is expected to hit eight percent this year.
The government has set targets to reduce it to six percent in 2011 and get it under the three percent required by EU regulations in 2013.
The government is already planning to make cuts by not replacing one in every two retiring civil servants. It faces a tough battle with unions meanwhile over its plan to raise the retirement age and reform pensions.
Sarkozy argued that raising the legal retirement age, now 60, would be the answer to salvaging the pension system, which this year will have an 11-billion-euro deficit.
He pledged to implement a fair reform of pensions and said "an additional effort will be required from high-income earners and capital holders".
A series of special benefits rolled out for struggling families last year at the height of the economic crisis will not be renewed, Sarkozy added.
"After the considerable effort that was made during the crisis. we must now engage in an effort to shore up our public finances," he said.
© 2010 AFP