Hollande prepares French civil service cuts: paper

PARIS Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:14pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande's government, under pressure to honor European debt-reduction commitments, is eyeing cuts in the staff and operational costs of the civil service over the years 2013, 2014 and 2015, a newspaper said on Wednesday.

While not yet set in stone, government deliberations over recent days have focused on broad targets for spending restraint, to be fine-tuned in coming weeks, the daily Le Figaro said.

Citing a source in the Budget Ministry, the newspaper said government meetings had focused on cutting civil service staffing by an average 2.5 percent a year over the 2013-2015 period, except in three domains where Hollande pledged to boost staffing by more than 60,000 over his five-year term - education above all, but also justice and policing.

The newspaper said the plan equated to non-replacement of two in three departing civil servants over the period.

It said ministries' operational costs on items such as car fleets, property rental and office supplies would also have to be cut under the plan - by 10 percent in 2013, 3 percent in 2014 and 3 percent in 2015.

The Socialist Hollande, elected on May 6, has promised to reboot the economy with a tax-and-spend program that spares voters the agony of Greek-style austerity but still erases a large government deficit by the end of his term in 2017.

Hollande's conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had pursued a policy that replaced only one in two retiring civil servants to cut costs. He had pledged to balance France's books marginally earlier, by 2016.

Le Figaro said the budget planning under Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also envisaged cutbacks in other areas of public spending, such as farm aid and subsidies for the arts.

An audit of public finances at the start of July is expected to offer Hollande and his government a cue to announce cuts in public outlays over coming years as France, and Europe more broadly, seek to combat the debt crisis of the past two years.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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