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President Sarkozy defends his record in TV address

Article published on the 2010-01-26 Latest update 2010-01-26 10:18 TU

President Nicolas SarkozyReuters/TF1 Television

President Nicolas Sarkozy
Reuters/TF1 Television

With regional elections two months away and a drop in opinion polls, President Nicolas Sarkozy defended his government's reform priorities for two hours on private television Monday night. After a brief interview, he fielded questions from a panel of 11 French people.

The panel was chosen to be representative of the concerns of fellow citizens and included a milk farmer, an overqualified young jobseeker, a teacher and the head of a business firm.

On unemployment, the President promised the public that the economic situation would improve this year, following last year's recession.  He pointed out that France was faring better that the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom.

But he said the country's generous and costly social welfare and labour system was holding back the growth of the economy.

"The solution is not to multiply benefits of all kinds in our country where the level of public spending is the highest in the OECD,"  he said.

"The choice of the 35-hour working week (introduced a decade ago) has turned out to be catastrophic in two ways: for salaries, which are not high enough, and for growth."

Sarkozy justified measures adopted to deal with the crisis, which included aid to the car sector and to banks. He also called on banks to behave more responsibly and lend to small companies. He chastised Renault for continuing to move car production to sites outside France.

He showed his concern for the plight of farmers, who have seen their revenue drop by 34 per cent. He said that a law to modernise the agricultural sector was in the works.

Sarkozy said that pension reform decisions would be taken by the end of 2010 that affect everyone in the public and private sector.

A poll released on the weekend showed that only 38 percent of the public support Sarkozy, while 61 percent disapprove of his performance.

Nicolas Sarkozy's television appearance was an effort to woo back the heart of the electorate that brought him to power in 2007.

His right-wing UMP party is gearing up for regional elections in March, hoping to take seats back from the opposition Socialists who control 20 of France's 22 regions.