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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Crime, punishment, and tax cuts
Mr Chirac and his wife vote in legislative elections
Mr Chirac hopes his second term will be more fruitful than his first

Jacques Chirac has become one of the most powerful presidents in recent French history after his centre-right UMP coalition trounced the left in the country's legislative elections.

For Mr Chirac, it means an end to so-called "co-habitation", the awkward co-existence between the right-wing presidency and a left-wing government, which he claims has caused paralysis in the French political system.

The Gaullist has little to show for his first term in office, and his score in the first round of the presidential elections was the lowest ever attained by an incumbent.

Now, with supporters everywhere - in the French Government, the National Assembly, the Senate, and the Constitutional Council - he hopes his fortunes may improve in his second term.

Correspondents say the programme laid out by the UMP is certainly a pragmatic course, but not one that will make Mr Chirac's mark on history.

Wooing voters

Mr Chirac and his centre-right UMP coalition made law and order into one of the central planks of their electoral campaign.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
The UMP is trying to woo votes away from Le Pen's far-right
Crime is one of the issues dear to far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the UMP hoped to win back the support of those voters who had defected to the far-right with tough talk on prevention and punishment.

After the presidential elections, Mr Chirac appointed a hardline interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, as a law and order tsar.

He has promised to spend six billion euros (5.67 billion dollars) on crime-busting initiatives, including regional taskforces and new detention centres.

The interim government has also already approved plans to allow ordinary officers on the beat to shoot down suspected criminals with rubber bullets.

Major tax cuts lie at the core of the UMP programme.

If elected, the government says it will slash income tax by 5%, as well as cutting corporate taxes and the amount employers pay in social security payments for their workers. The government has also dangled the prospect of a tax rebate before the end of this summer.

But there are some fears that the figures being flashed around are unrealistic, given France's traditional commitment to proper funding of its public services. Its hospitals and transport systems are seen as some of the best in the world.

A UMP government would also adjust the 35-hour working week introduced by Lionel Jospin's Socialists, and exclude small companies from the scheme who want their workers to put in longer hours.

But the most contentious issue that the new government may well have to tackle is pension reform, particularly given its plans to cut taxes and social security contributions.

Under a UMP government, state contributions would be likely to fall, and a greater private component incorporated in pension provision, much like the American model - a move which would be likely to meet with great hostility.

Direct action

Observers warn that even if Mr Chirac does get his right-wing majority in parliament next week, there is no guarantee that his policies will win the support of the French people at large.

His last reforming government fell in 1997 soon after French people took to the streets to protest against reforms to the French welfare system, and in particular against suggestions that pension provision should be overhauled.

Any serious pension reform, or other painful measure, is likely to bring people onto the streets again.

And then Mr Chirac could find himself back where he started.


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10 Jun 02 | Media reports
09 Jun 02 | Europe
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