Despite most of France’s political classes being on their traditional August holidays, a proposal to get tough on benefit fraud by the transport minister has had a bigger impact than probably even he expected.
Thierry Mariani, a member of the conservative wing of the governing UMP party, was speaking to the Journal du Dimanche in a wide ranging interview.
When asked what themes he and his fellow right-wingers would focus on in the upcoming elections of 2012, Mariani listed a number of topics.
“We will have a series of proposals on sovereignty, jobs and social justice. This is an important theme. It’s about fighting those who profit both at the bottom and the top of the social scale,” he told the newspaper.
Regarding benefit fraud, he said “I support the creation of one single register that lists all the benefits that are claimed. This will help identify abuse. At the moment, the same person can claim income support benefits in several areas because the lists aren’t linked together.”
“I am completely in agreement with Thierry Mariani,” employment minister Xavier Bertrand told AFP on Sunday.
“The creation of a single register covering all benefits, allowing us to check claims against each other, is the best way to reinforce the battle against benefit fraud,” he said. He promised the register would be in place before the end of the year.
Opposition politicians were quick to attack the measures.
The proposal is intended to “stigmatize those people who are having a difficult time,” said Socialist politician Jean-Michel Baylet, who is standing in the upcoming primary race that will choose the party’s presidential candidate.
Benoît Hamon, Socialist party spokesman, used his Twitter account to make a comparison between the “€2 billion of benefit fraud” versus the “€8-16 billion euros” of fraud by employers in their payment of social contributions. “The government goes after the first and ignores the second,” he said.
Benefit fraud is a hot topic in France. A parliamentary report in June claimed that the government was losing €20 billion a year in fraud and undeclared income.