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Sarkozy springs budget trap for Socialists

Matthew Warren · 28 Jul 2011, 08:45

Published: 28 Jul 2011 10:22 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Jul 2011 08:45 GMT+02:00

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The President’s proposal to enshrine a ‘golden rule’ in France's constitution that would require governments to deliver a balanced budget has landed the opposition Socialists with a political challenge.

President Nicolas Sarkozy sent personally signed letters to every member of parliament this week urging representatives to seek support for his proposal. He asked MPs to move beyond party interests to “put our public accounts in order.”

To amend the constitution, a vote of three-fifths of the members of both the upper and lower houses would be required in a special vote. To do this, the President would need to get around 40 votes from opposition parties.

The conundrum for the Socialists is that if enough of them vote for the measure, they could be handing Sarkozy a huge success just before the presidential election planned for next year. If they vote against, they run the risk of looking obstructive and lax on economic matters.

Last year, France had a budget deficit of 7.1 percent, significantly more than the 3 percent required by the EU Stability and Growth pact. The country’s debt stands at 84.5 percent of GDP and government forecasts predict a peak at 86.9 percent in 2012.

The president’s proposal is inspired by the example of Germany and would mean that unbalanced budgets could be censured by the country’s constitutional court.

“We shouldn’t be treated like children,” Socialist MP Michel Sapin told newspaper Libération.

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He said he wasn’t inclined to help the president “erase his responsibility for France’s disastrous financial situation.” He claimed Socialist presidential contenders also intended to make balanced budgets a key part of their programme.

A source close to the President attempted to stress the importance of the measure by telling AFP that France “is the most fragile of the AAA-rated countries”. She said failure to get agreement would “expose this fragility.”

Matthew Warren (news.france@thelocal.com)

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