Fillon reaffirms his austerity plan for France… or is it a ‘purge’?

Fillon reaffirms his austerity plan for France... or is it a 'purge'?
Photo: AFP
The embattled François Fillon reaffirmed on Monday how he plans to revive France, including ending the 35-hour work week and cutting 500,000 public sector jobs. Opponents have slammed his project as a “purge”.

Fillon, who is expected to be charged this week over the fake jobs scandal that has derailed his election campaign, unveiled “Project Fillon” at a press conference on Monday.

Fillon has promised in the past a complete “rupture” in order to shake France’s economy out of the doldrums and on Monday he reaffirmed several of his most controversial plans for France.

In a promise that may anger French voters, Fillon promised transparency for all MPs and will force them to make public any family links they have to their parliamentary assistants.

To “prevent conflicts of interest and (ensure) the proper use of public funds”, ministers would be required to sign a code of conduct, the Republicans candidate said.

Vowing to move quickly, he promised: “Within the first weeks, everyone in France will see that something unprecedented is happening.”

Notably Fillon is sticking by his plan to ditch France’s famous 35-hour work week by gradually raising it to 39 hours in the public sector. In the private sector Fillon says companies should be free to set their own working hours through negotiations with workers.

In order to get the country going again “the French are going to have to work a little more”, Fillon said. That may be hard to swallow for many French voters given the allegations that his wife earned hundreds of thousands of euros over several years in a fake role as his parliamentary assistant.

Another controversial plan, Fillon confirmed is his intention to raise France’s retirement age to 65.

Fillon has been dubbed the French Maggie Thatcher and wants to “pull down the house and rebuild it” – the spirit of how Margaret Thatcher reformed the UK in the 1980s.

Part of pulling down the house is Fillon’s promise to delete 500,000 public sector jobs as well as make some €100 billion worth of savings over five years.

He also wants to hike VAT so he can reduce the social charges employers must pay and scrap the country’s fortune tax on the ultra wealthy.

Fillon wants to create a “France of entrepreneurs” and “unlock the main obstacles” facing companies. He plans to reduce the corporation tax rates and also make it easier for companies to lay off workers.

In order to reduce the power of France’s trade unions, negotiations between employees and bosses will take place first and foremost at a company level.

His plans once again provoked a storm among critics who believe it is more like a “purge”  than a project to boost the country's economy.

READ ALSO: Does France really need Thatcherism à la Fillon?

Earlier on Monday Fillon complained that he was the target of a “witch hunt” by journalists after revelations that a wealthy friend had bought him luxury suits worth thousands of euros.

Fillon is still reeling from a media exposé in January which brought to light how he had used public funds to pay his wife and children hundreds of thousands of euros for suspected fake jobs as parliamentary assistants.

“I am the target of such a number of attacks that I can't consider them anything other than a sort of witch hunt, a kind of campaign against me,” the former prime minister told Europe 1 radio on Monday morning.

“What could explain that hundreds of journalists, at the very least dozens, go through my garbage to find out about my suits. Tomorrow it will be my shirts and then why not my underpants as well?” he added.

The Journal du Dimanche newspaper claimed Sunday that an anonymous benefactor had paid nearly 48,500 euros ($51,800) for clothing for Fillon from the jet-set tailor Arnys since 2012.



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