French government wins tight confidence vote

President Francois Hollande and government continue to lose support over failure to tackle country's economic crisis.

    President Francois Hollande's popularity has plunged over failure to cure the country's economic problems [AFP]
    President Francois Hollande's popularity has plunged over failure to cure the country's economic problems [AFP]

    France's government has narrowly won a crunch confidence vote in parliament, providing a measure of relief for the hugely unpopular President Francois Hollande's administration.

    The vote, held on Tuesday, saw the government's once comfortable margin diluted in the 269-244 vote, with 53 abstentions, but still allows Prime Minister Manuel Valls to carry out reforms aimed at lifting France out of its economic crisis.

    "We will continue this route ... until the end of the term,'' Valls said after the voting. "This is what the French expect, that we roll up our sleeves and be up to the challenges."

    Hollande's popularity has plunged over failure to cure the nation's high unemployment rate, zero growth and oversized deficit.

    He had promised to create jobs for the French when he took office in 2012 after defeating the conservative incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.

    In a speech laying out government policy before the vote, Valls addressed Socialist dissenters who feel he has abandoned his leftist ideals in favour of big business and resorting to financial austerity measures.

    Of the 53 abstentions, 31 of them were Socialists, who hold 289 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, the lower house. 

    High unemployment

    Valls is hoping his reforms will help cure a litany of ills afflicting France.

    The jobless rate has been more than 10 percent for five years, the economy is not growing and public finances are in bad shape.

    The budget deficit is 4.4 percent of gross domestic product, far above the 3 percent demanded by the European Union.

    The reforms include $65bn in cuts to government spending by 2017. It also proposes reducing the tax burden on employers in hopes to spur hiring.

    The reforms must be approved in parliament in the autumn. 

    Despite promised spending cuts, Valls maintained his reforms do not amount to austerity.

    He said the government would not change the 35-hour work week, retirement at 60 for some employees and other benefits. 

    "The only question that should concern us is to carry out indispensable reforms with courage, but without putting into question our social model ... which is even part of our identity,'' the prime minister said.

    Once one of France's most popular politicians, Valls is also losing ground in polls since his appointment five months ago. His popularity rating fell to 30 percent in the latest poll by the Ipsos firm, published this week.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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