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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Sarkozy pledges 'growth and jobs'
Nicolas Sarkozy
Can Mr Sarkozy please voters and balance the books?
New French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to boost growth and create jobs, in defiance of claims that reform may be allowed to slacken.

Mr Sarkozy was installed in France's finance, economy and industry ministry in this week's cabinet reshuffle, which critics say was not thorough enough.

He is under pressure to meet his government's reform pledges to stimulate France's lacklustre economy.

At the same time, France is exceeding EU rules on its budget deficit.

'Culture of results'

Mr Sarkozy's performance will be a key component in the government's struggle to rebound from a heavy defeat in regional elections last month.

He won considerable popularity at the interior ministry, where he took a tough stance on law and order.

He says he will bring the same toughness to economic policy.

"There are a couple of key words," he told his inauguration press conference.

"Everything will be done for economic growth and jobs," he said, adding that he would demand a "culture of results".

Pact problems

Mr Sarkozy's predecessor, Francis Mer, also promised to keep reforms moving quickly.

Francis Mer
Mr Mer's measures stirred up protests
But his attempts to streamline the economy proved dramatically unpopular with trade unions, and caused widespread labour unrest.

Mr Sarkozy's pledge to support growth and jobs implies that he is likely to favour loosening the government's purse-strings.

But France's fiscal freedom is constrained by the eurozone's Stability and Growth Pact, which limits the size of state budget deficits to 3% of gross domestic product.

France, like Germany, has breached the pact's limit over the past two years, and looks set to do the same in 2004.

Mr Sarkozy has not yet said how he views the pact, a rule highly unpopular in many eurozone member states.

The BBC's Alasdair Sandford
"The task of economic reform has been described as a 'poisoned chalice'"

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