With his popularity flagging, French President François Hollande has set out to recast his image as ‘man in control’.
He told the nation on television yesterday: “I must set the course and the pace. The course is recovery for France. It has high unemployment, weakened competitiveness, considerable deficits and is historically indebted. My mission is to see our country recovers, and I’m going to give it two years. You tell me to speed things up, and I do!”
This comes after a summer of scalding critiques. The construction plan he laid before the French people put jobs and the national debt in the front line, with the aim of knocking 30 billion euros off the budget,
through savings and revenue-raising next year. The goal is to reduce the public deficit from 4.5 percent to 3.0 percent.
One third of this is supposed to come from lower spending in all ministries except education, security and justice; one third is to come through new taxes on households; and the other third is to come from taxes on companies.
And he has to do this while restoring growth and not sapping public morale. Many French are sceptical or very worried or both.
In an open market, a grandmother said: “We’ll have to pay even more, as usual: it’s always the same ones who have to make the extra effort.”
Another woman said: “If they tax us much more we won’t be able to cope – can’t cope now!”
On the other hand, said one stoic gentleman nearing retirement age: “Everyone has to pitch in: the rich a bit more, others a bit less. That’s the way it should be for national solidarity.”
Wealthier taxpayers are targeted the most, as are the biggest companies.
People earning more than 150,000 euros per year will be taxed at a rate of 45 percent. Those with incomes of more than a million will pay 75 percent on anything over that, say two-to-three thousand individuals – a measure likely to last two to three years. The plans are to go before the cabinet at the end of this month.
Hollande has appealed to French pride in the face of fears that some will take their riches out.
The world’s wealthiest Frenchman, Bernard Arnault, had the president worried when he applied for Belgian nationality, for business reasons, he said, while insisting he would continue to pay taxes in France.
Hollande said: “When we drew up this reform, I thought how important it is that those earning way up there show a patriotic example.”
The debt now stands at 90 percent of GDP, and servicing payments is the second largest draw on the budget, putting investment confidence at risk.