Sarkozy takes government out of the Elysee palace

7th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, France, Sept 7, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday convened the first cabinet meeting outside of Paris in more than 30 years, delivering on an election promise to bring government closer to the people.

STRASBOURG, France, Sept 7, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday convened the first cabinet meeting outside of Paris in more than 30 years, delivering on an election promise to bring government closer to the people.

The meeting held in the eastern city of Strasbourg marked the first time since 1976 that the government was meeting outside of the Elysee presidential palace.

All of the ministers except Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defence Minister Herve Morin attended the meeting held at the Strasbourg district government building.

Sarkozy, who has been dubbed the "hyper-active" president for his energetic style, promised during his election campaign to hold cabinet meetings outside of Paris and address complaints that the government was out of touch with the provinces.

"What do you expect? That I stay in the Elysee, waiting for clients to turn up and for dust to gather on the files?" Sarkozy said Thursday during a tour of a factory in the Alsace region.

The last time the French cabinet met outside of Paris was in Lille under president Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1976.

Sarkozy, who took over in May from Jacques Chirac, is laying the groundwork for Phase II of his economic reform programme despite figures showing that France is headed for another year of sluggish growth.

Sarkozy's rightwing government pushed through a 13.6-billion-euro (18.6 billion-dollar) package of tax breaks this summer designed to jolt the economy and boost consumer spending.

It has pinned its hopes on growth of 2.25 to 2.5 percent to finance the tax breaks, a target that economists agree is unlikely to be reached this year.

The OECD this week scaled back its growth projection for France from 2.2 percent to 1.8 percent in 2007.

The opposition Socialists' economics critic, Michel Sapin, warned Friday that France was heading towards an austerity plan because of the poor economic outlook.

"I sincerely believe that the president has made a serious mistake in his diagnosis" of the economy, Sapin told Le Parisien newspaper.  "An austerity plan is now on everyone's mind. It seems unavoidable," he said.

Sarkozy on Thursday vowed to press ahead with economic reforms, saying that despite sluggish growth "I will not lounge around.  I will make decisions."

The president announced plans to launch a "gigantic plan to combat fraud" of unemployment benefits, saying the millions of unemployed may no longer have the option of refusing a job.

"It's normal for society to hold out a helping hand and provide benefits to someone who is unemployed," Sarkozy said. "But it's not normal to turn down a job for which you are qualified, because then others have to pay."

New figures released Friday showed the budget deficit had swelled from 38.17 billion euros (52 billion dollars) last year to 47.44 billion euros on July 31.

The budget ministry said the widening gap was due to a windfall in 2006 from privatisation revenues that resulted in an "atypical year". The deficit reached 48.76 billion euros in 2005.

AFP

Subject: French news

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