News / Europe

French Government Unveils Plan to Grow Jobs, Economy

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech following an employment summit with labor union representatives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 18, 2012.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech following an employment summit with labor union representatives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 18, 2012.
Lisa Bryant

As the World Bank warns Wednesday that Europe probably is already in recession, France's government has announced a series of measures to grow the country's economy and make it more competitive.

Five days after Standard & Poor's downgraded France and eight other eurozone countries, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced new steps to turn around Europe's second-largest economy.

Speaking after a meeting with top unions and employers, Sarkozy outlined a strategy to retrain workers, offer apprenticeships and part-time jobs, and get more young people into the work force.

France's conservative government is using neighboring Germany as its role model to try to cut unemployment and boost growth. The German economy, Europe's largest, is doing well and Berlin escaped an S&P downgrade.

Sarkozy hopes the new measures also will give him a boost in the polls. Presidential elections are in May and he is trailing his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. Not surprisingly, Sarkozy's rivals blame him for France's economic problems.

But the reforms face resistance. Ordinary French citizens oppose efforts to slice their generous benefits and the 35-hour work week.

In a French radio interview, CFDT union president Francois Cherque ruled out what he called quick "gadget reforms."  Real reforms, he said, take time.

But France and other European nations are being pressured to deliver solutions soon. A new World Bank report warns that Europe is probably in recession, and the eurozone debt crisis could push the rest of the world into a slump.

"We ran some scenarios here. Were that crisis to become more serious, growth in developing countries could decline by almost some four percentage points, GDP be lower by four percentage points. That is a very significant slowdown," said Andrew Burns, the report's lead author.

Sarkozy has promised major economic reforms before. But he has made slow progress during his presidency, in the face of stiff resistance from unions, workers and leftist politicians.

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