Work harder, earn less: Sarkozy hopes tough talk will win votes

 

Paris

In an act of supreme courage– or electoral suicide – President Nicolas Sarkozy last night told France to work harder for lower pay and higher taxes.

Mr Sarkozy, insisting that he was speaking as President, not as candidate, announced a 1.6 per cent rise in VAT and changes in employment law to allow wage cuts and longer hours.

In TV interview broadcast on all the main channels, the President adopted what some of his supporters called the "courageous" or "Churchillian" defence against the increasingly powerful electoral challenge of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande. Other despairing centre-right politicians spoke of a "kamikaze" approach to a spring election which might already be slipping out of the President's grasp.

Mr Sarkozy said urgent and radical reforms were needed to allow France to compete in Europe and the world. Following the loss of its triple A credit rating and a surge in unemployment to nearly 10 per cent, emergency action was required to restore the competitiveness of France's economy.

He proposed a 1.6 per cent rise (to 21.2 per cent) from October in the basic rate of VAT. The €13bn raised would, he said, allow cuts in the heavy burden of payroll taxes paid by French employers. He proposed a change in labour law to allow companies and unions to negotiate wage cuts and exceptions to the 35 hour working week.

He announced plans to expand house building and impose tougher fines on companies who failed to hire apprentices. He said that France would push ahead, before the EU, with a "unilateral" 0.1 per cent tax on all transactions.

It was time to address the French people with "courage, honesty and clarity", Mr Sarkozy said. Urgent action was needed to reduce the burden of state spending on private enterprise or industrial jobs would continue to drain away to Germany or China. There seems little chance that Mr Sarkozy can push though such unpopular measures before the two round presidential election on 22 April and 6 May. Parliament dissolves at the end of next month and the upper house, Le Sénat, now has a centre-left majority.

Although Mr Sarkozy refused formally to confirm his candidature last night, his proposals amounted to a preview of a "blood, sweet and tears" electoral campaign. The President is said to believe that the best response to the popularity of the mildly leftist programme of Mr Hollande is a campaign based on "courage" and "honesty".

"What is the alternative?" he asked last night. "To fold our arms and do nothing and watch the jobs disappear?" Many of his own centre-right supporters fail to understand why such drastic action is needed after five years of modest reforms and zig-zag economic policies. "It's an act of political suicide," said Lionnel Luca, of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP).

Some UMP politicians fear it proves Mr Sarkozy knows he cannot win. He wants, they fear, to go down with guns blazing, fighting for the radical reforms he has skirted for five years.

With friends like these: Merkel offers help

The spectre of a new candidate hovered over the presidential race yesterday – "Merkozy". A senior aide to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that she was planning to hold "joint campaign meetings" with President Sarkozy before the French election. Ms Merkel is admired in France but her outright intervention in the campaign could be counter-productive. Mr Sarkozy has been criticised domestically for giving too much ground to the Chancellor in their joint efforts – which generated the nickname "Merkozy" – to rescue the euro. Sarkozy's party, the UMP, played down the offer yesterday, suggesting that Ms Merkel might come to "one meeting" just before the first round.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas