SPIEGEL ONLINE - September 20, 2007, 12:52 PM
THE SCATTERSHOT APPROACH
Sarkozy Tackles Immigration, Pensions and Public Sector Jobs
It's been quite a week in Paris. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for pension reforms and public sector job cuts, while his controversial immigration bill has been pushed through. But the unions are not going down without a fight, there is already talk of massive strikes.
A man on a mission: French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to shake up France, fast.
With dizzying rapidity, Sarkozy announced that public sector retirement privileges would be scrapped and the civil service trimmed, while his immigration minister put legislation to the parliament to tighten French immigration laws.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy made a wide-ranging speech on pensions and workplace reforms, in which he said the government intended to ease the 35-hour working week and tackle special retirement packages for public employees, which he described as "outdated and unfair." He ordered his Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand to start talks with unions to harmonize pensions.
By Wednesday the president's attention had turned to trimming the public sector. Speaking in Nantes, Sarkozy announcing a "cultural revolution", saying he wanted to cut around 22,000 jobs in a public sector that he hoped would be "smaller, better paid and with better career prospects."
The immigration bill was finally passed in the early hours of Thursday morning with the support of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the centrist deputies. The Socialists, Communists and Greens voted against the legislation which includes measures to test prospective immigrants' knowledge of the French language and the "values of the Republic." The most controversial part of the bill, an amendment on DNA testing to prove family ties with immigrants already in France, was passed at around midnight.
Sarkozy's reforming zeal may know no bounds, but he is likely to find himself on a collision course with the France's powerful trade union movement. His plans to slash public sector jobs was greeted as a "declaration of war" by Jean-Marc Canon, the head of the powerful CGT union's branch for civil servants. While transport unions on Wednesday declared that they were considering massive strike action in October.
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