Sarkozy finds 20 ways to save French economy

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With one bound our hero was free. The French Finance Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, proposed 20 ways to save the economy yesterday, confounding those - including President Jacques Chirac - who thought that his new job as guardian of the national debt would shrink his political ambitions.

In his first press conference since he was sent to the Finance Ministry last month, M. Sarkozy set out a sweeping programme of reforms, including a two-year spending freeze. But he also set out plans to boost consumption and create jobs, including tax breaks for parents and grandparents who give money to their children to buy large consumer items, such as cars.

In effect, M. Sarkozy said that the state, which is €1,000bn (£675bn) in debt, must go on a crash diet but that the government would remain as busy as ever. He said that he would create an "active" new industrial policy, to encourage investment and discourage French and foreign companies from moving jobs abroad.

M. Sarkozy, 49, previously the hyperactive interior minister, has let it be known that he, not his ageing, one-time mentor, Jacques Chirac, should lead the centre-right into the next presidential elections in 2007.

The President sent M. Sarkozy to the Finance Ministry after disastrous regional elections at the end of March, hoping that his rival would be crushed between unsustainable budget deficits and the popular aversion to reform.

After just five weeks in office, M. Sarkozy made it clear yesterday that he does not intend to be caught in this trap. He announced what amounted to his own centrist programme for government, drawn not from discussions with his ministerial colleagues but contacts with business, the unions and independent economists.