Chirac veers left to smooth path for favoured successor De Villepin

President Jacques Chirac has entered what may be his last full year in politics by veering significantly to the left. M. Chirac, a connoisseur of U-turns and zig-zags, has used new year receptions to announce a flurry of left-leaning policies, including a radical shift in the financing of health and social security spending. He has 17 months remaining in his second term and his poll ratings are at a record low.

The sharp turn is seen as an attempt to fulfil M. Chirac's last remaining political ambition: to ruin the presidential chances of his former protégé, the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

President Chirac, 73, weakened by health problems and his defeat in the referendum on the EU constitution last May, has probably abandoned hope of a third term. By embracing ideas from trades unions and the centre-left opposition, M. Chirac is preparing for an aggressively centrist, and even leftist, campaign next year by his preferred successor, the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin.

M. Sarkozy has called for a "rupture" with a "failed" French political and social model and a move towards a lower-spending, less intrusive state. But all the new policies announced by M. Chirac this week are intended to suggest the French model of high-spending and generous welfare protection is compatible with a forward-looking, ground-breaking country.

The intention seems to be paint the popular M. Sarkozy as an ultra-liberal ideologue and a threat to the French way of life. "Let's escape from this endless debate on the 'French model'," President Chirac said. "You don't change what you are."

He has also set hi-tech ambitions, such as the development by 2030 of a new "cleaner" fourth generation of nuclear reactors and the abandonment of fossil fuels by French rail and bus services by 2025.

He has also raided the thinking of the trade union federation, the CGT, once Communist-affiliated, to propose the biggest shift in social policy financing for 60 years.

The French health service, and pensions and unemployment benefits, are funded by separate taxes - or social security contributions - which fall heavily on both employers and employees. The system is partly blamed for the stubbornly high rate of unemployment (just under 10 per cent). The social security system is also hugely in deficit.

M. Chirac has proposed that a proportion of employers' contributions to the social security fund should no longer be based on the number of people a company employs. Instead, payments should be based on the "value added" by a company, including its investments and foreign earnings.

This would push a larger part of the social security budget on relatively "low-employment" industries in fields such as finance and new technologies. "High employment" industries would be relieved of part of their costs, potentially creating many jobs. But opponents warned such a switch could force companies, and foreign investment, to move from France.

M. Chirac picked up another union idea for individual rights to "permanent training", to allow employees to switch jobs more easily. He also promised a €2bn (£1,377m) a year state loan fund for promising start-up and small companies.

In another gesture to the left, the President has promised to scrap a law smuggled through parliament last year by right-wingers in his party.

It calls for history taught in French schools to dwell on the "positive" record of French colonisation, especially in north Africa. That caused anger in the French Carib-bean islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique and damaged relations with Algeria. M. Chirac wants to "calm tempers".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test