Jospin accused of making `too many promises' in major policy statement

 

THE FRENCH Prime Minister, Mr Lionel Jospin, mixed moralising, lofty rhetoric and deficit-digging promises in his first major policy address, delivered to the newly-elected National Assembly yesterday.

The speech was good news for immigrants, the young, women, civil servants and minimum wage earners. It was bad news for big public works projects; the Rhine-Rhone canal and Superphenix nuclear reactor have been cancelled.

The left-wing majority applauded often and gave him a standing ovation, but the sulking right-wing opposition booed so loudly that the speaker of the house several times had to call them to order.

The Prime Minister did not explain how he would reduce income tax and VAT while raising the minimum wage by 4 per cent, creating 700,000 new jobs, reducing working hours, renovating, low-income housing, providing more generous medical benefits and increasing spending on culture and education. "You made" too many promises," Mr Francois Bayrou, the leader of the opposition Union for French Democracy (UDF), said in his response to Mr Jospin.

"Everyone feels that we are going through a difficult period," Mr Jospin said. "We must ... give back to our country the most precious thing which has slipped away: a sense of meaning." He offered the French people a "republican pact" to bring morality back into public life. "More than ever before, public life suffers from individualism and the reign of money," he said. "It is indispensable that we re-establish the rules of republican ethics."

Mr Jospin promised to restore the right of all children born on French soil to French nationality - a tradition recently broken by right-wing governments. "Nothing is more foreign to France than xenophobic and racist language," he said, drawing shouts of protest from opposition benches. "Immigration is an economic, social and human reality which must be organised, controlled

Alluding to meddling by the last justice minister in corruption cases, Mr Jospin promised that his administration will not interfere with the course of justice. He would create a commission to watch over the ethics of French security forces.

French civil servants can rest assured; Mr Jospin will abandon attempts to reduce their numbers. He will revise the French constitution to reflect the goal of parity between men and women in government. He will also prevent politicians from holding multiple offices, and reduce mandates to five years.

The Prime Minister hoped the situation of the Renault factory at Vilvoorde would not arise again, but he did not spell out what he plans to do about that specific case. His government, however, will revise legislation on sacking employees. He was equally vague about the fate of state-owned telecommunications, electronics and aeronautics industries.

Slow growth and high unemployment blighted much of Europe, which was why he wanted those problems to be addressed by the EU. The resolution he had pushed through at Amsterdam was a first step, but he would "continue on the same path with perseverance". In foreign policy, France would act everywhere in favour of human rights and democracy, and it would reform its much-criticised African policy.

Social justice was the leitmotif of Mr Jospin's speech. "There is something as absurd as it is unjust in our society," he said. "We have never been so rich as a whole, and yet thousands of people sleep in the street, forgo medical care for lack of money, and children can, no longer afford to eat in school canteens.