France moves ahead with controversial postal reform

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Unions and the opposition fear privatising the state-owned company will lead to lost in jobs.

Paris – France on Wednesday moved to change the status of the state-owned postal service despite an outcry from unions and the opposition who fear the move will lead to all-out privatisation.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government approved a plan to turn La Poste into a public limited company in 2010. The measure will be submitted to parliament which is expected to vote on the change in October.

The right-wing government has argued that changing the status of the mail service will allow it to raise the capital needed to modernise the service and prepare for Europe-wide liberalisation of the sector in 2011.

But unions and the Socialist opposition fear jobs will be lost and that the change in status to a publicly-owned corporation will open the door to a takeover by private shareholders.

France's biggest union, the CGT, has called for a referendum on the fate of the postal service and is planning street protests in September just as lawmakers begin debate.

Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said "prospects for maintaining a high-quality public service will be in doubt" with the plan that has sparked protests for the past year.

Economy and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde dismissed the claims of creeping privatisation and said the government was not trying to "liquidate" the postal services which she pledged would remain "100 percent publicly-owned".

"We will ensure it keeps going by guaranteeing that La Poste will provide universal services for the coming 15 years. We are not liquidating the mail service," Lagarde told France Inter radio.

Under the plan, La Poste will be able to raise EUR 2.7 billion to modernise.

The postal service ranks as one of France's most prized state services and many consider the presence of its branches with their trademark yellow and blue logos to be a vital link especially in rural areas.

AFP / Expatica

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