French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the French magazine Le Figaro (companion to the daily) that he will push on with pension reforms after upcoming regional elections, adding the polls should focus on local issues.
REUTERS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy signalled a slowdown in the pace of reform next year as he prepared for regional elections at the weekend that are expected to result in a heavy defeat for his centre-right UMP party.
In an interview with the conservative Le Figaro magazine, Sarkozy pledged to push on with sensitive pension reforms after the election, but said parliament needed time to fine-tune the battery of measures adopted since he came to power in 2007.
« In the second half of 2011, the government will pause so that parliament can ‘de-legislate’ if it wants to, » he said in the interview due to appear on Friday. « It will be high time to start simplifying legislative and administrative measures. »
The comments represent a sharp change in tone for Sarkozy, normally a relentless advocate for reform. They come as the UMP stares at the prospect of a wipeout in the last ballot before the 2012 presidential election.
« We’re heading for a classic mid-term election where the sitting government is going to be punished, » said Frederic Dabi, director of the opinion and strategy section of pollsters Ifop.
Unemployment has climbed over 10 percent, public finances are under huge strain and Sarkozy’s ‘action man’ image has been worn down by internal party squabbling and damaging rows over issues ranging from lavish executive pay to immigration.
Sarkozy said the elections should be about regional issues but he said he would be attentive to the message of the vote, even if a major cabinet reshuffle was unlikely before sensitive reforms to the pension system are completed later this year.
« That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t listen to what the French people have to say, » he said. « We will see if a new political phase is appropriate after the pension reform, » he said.
The two-round election on March 14 and 21 will decide the governments for 26 regions with authority over issues such as local transport and maintaining school buildings.
The regions normally attract little interest but they offer an outlet for the kind of protest vote that saw the ruling centre-right trounced by the Socialists in the last regional election in 2004.
Sarkozy has stayed out of the campaign, in line with the French convention that the head of state should be above the everyday political fray, but a steep slide in his personal approval ratings has weighed heavily.
By contrast, the low-key, tenacious Prime Minister Francois Fillon has seen his own popularity climb steadily, but Sarkozy dismissed widespread reports of tension between the two, declaring: « I work very well with the prime minister. »
He also brushed aside questions about the 2012 presidential election, saying he would not decide on whether he would run again until nearer the date.
« I will decide at the end of 2011, taking account of a certain number of collective and personal criteria, » he said. « Until then, I remain totally committed to serving the French people. »
The interview made no reference to Internet rumours that have spread to the European press that Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy were having affairs. The speculation, however, has not entered mainstream French media and is not expected to influence the election.
Date created : 2010-03-12