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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
Sarkozy holds talks with Le Pen
French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen talks to the press at the Elysee Palace after attending a consultation meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy,
Mr Le Pen had not been received at the Elysee for more than 30 years
President Nicolas Sarkozy has become the first French leader to hold talks with far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in more than 30 years.

Mr Sarkozy had pledged to brief French MPs and MEPs such as Mr Le Pen before this week's EU summit in Brussels.

Later he told MPs from his own UMP party he was committed to bold reforms.

He said French voters had approved a break from the ideas of the past, in what correspondents say is a clear warning to unions aiming to oppose him.

The meeting with Mr Le Pen - on the day of his 79th birthday - is part of a consultation process with all the main political parties, which comes as President Sarkozy begins his reform process.

Mr Le Pen described President Sarkozy's move as a "democratic gesture", and said they had exchanged differing views over the future of Europe.

The National Front could not remember when Mr Le Pen was last invited to the Elysee, says the BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Paris.

It is thought to have been either in the late 1960s or early 1970s, at a time when his political clout was substantially less than it is today, our correspondent adds.

Both Jacques Chirac and his socialist predecessor Francois Mitterrand refused to meet the far-right leader, who formed the National Front 35 years ago.

Full steam ahead

Later, the new government held its first cabinet meeting at which a first batch of reforms was put forward - including a tax package to boost growth, and tax breaks to encourage people to work longer than the 35-hour work week.

The French made a choice. They approved a project of rupture with the ideas, the values, the behaviour of the past
Nicolas Sarkozy
French president

Other measures presented by new Finance Minister Christine Lagarde included a package meant to create jobs, and tax breaks for homebuyers.

Mr Sarkozy said in a speech to his MPs that the government's reform plans remained on track.

"The French made a choice. They approved a project of rupture with the ideas, the values, the behaviour of the past.

"But I say clearly: to reach that, I will not put into place a policy that could slow growth or make the great structural reforms needed impossible," the president said.

"Everything I promised to change, I will change," he said.

Other goals include:

  • cutting the top rate of income tax to 50% from the current 60%

  • social VAT (an increase in value-added-tax to help reduce labour costs) on a trial basis

  • a balanced budget within five years and a reduction of the country's debt to 60% of GDP - down from more than 65% in 2006 - within the next five years

  • using sustainable development to stimulate growth, not just to protect resources

An extraordinary session of parliament is to open on 26 June and will work through much of the summer passing draft reform bills.

Ethnic-minority ministers

In another sign of change with the past, three women of African descent took seats at Wednesday's cabinet meeting.

In a cabinet reshuffle made necessary by parliamentary elections at the weekend, Mr Sarkozy named the Senegalese-born Rama Yade as minister for human rights.

The opposition activist Fadela Amara - who is of Algerian origin - was put in charge of urban affairs.

Ms Amara previously headed an organisation which campaigned against domestic violence in French suburbs, many of which have large immigrant populations.

The French president also confirmed his choice of another North African - Rachida Dati - as minister of justice.






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