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Reforms to the complex French tax system were outlined by the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, yesterday. They will start with the introduction of a universal contribution to health costs, to replace the differentiated contributions paid only by salaried employees. The reforms, to be phased over five years, have not been quantified: Mr Juppe would supply figures in the autumn.

The reforms are intended to lighten the tax burden on workers and are the government's response to charges that national insurance and tax levies make the French one of the most heavily taxed nations in Europe. Taxes in France have increased over the past year with a 2 per cent rise in VAT and a new tax to help repay the debt run up by the welfare system.