PARIS French President Francois Hollande has suggested that his government will ease taxes for the middle classes, in a National Day interview that urged his fellow citizens to be more self-confident and look on the bright side.
During a 40-minute interview with the television channels TF1 and France 2, Hollande acknowledged that tax was a "sensitive subject", that the French paid a lot of tax, and that more French people paid income tax now than five years ago.
But he said that, this year, around 3 million people would pay less income tax, and more than a million pay none.
He added that, this year and next, there would be an "extra effort for the middle classes", who had been hit hard in recent years and could finally be "compensated for the efforts that have been made".
"We will act in such a way that several hundred thousand French people pay less tax," he said.
Hollande's popularity ratings have plumbed record lows in the past two years as unemployment has soared over 10 percent - despite measures to ease hiring and firing, and the spending of billions of euros to subsidize jobs for younger and older workers.
He had pinned his hopes on the economy picking up, but GDP growth was zero in the first quarter, and economic indicators have suggested little improvement since then; business activity contracted for the second month in a row in June.
In the television interview to mark Bastille Day, when a crowd stormed a Paris prison on July 14, 1789, at the outset of the French Revolution, Hollande said his compatriots were more inclined than some others to put their country down.
"We are very proud but, at the same time, I would say there is a sort of sickness, which is not serious but which can be contagious, whereby we are always lamenting and disparaging," he said.
"Speak well of your country because, when I'm abroad, people do speak well of France, of what it's doing in the international arena, in the diplomatic sphere, on defense, the operations we have carried out for peace, but also innovation, companies."
The president also cited entrepreneurs, major companies with significant exports, the tourist industry and agriculture.
"We have to fight but, most importantly, we have to have confidence in ourselves," he said.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)