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PM Fillon uses dreaded 'austerity' word on Japan trip

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-07-16

French Prime Minister François Fillon has created a stir by bringing up France's "budgetary austerity" in a speech during an official visit to Japan. The French government has taken great pains to steer clear of the dreaded "A" word.

François Fillon
The French Prime Minister hasn’t always been so straightforward about French budgetary policy. In early May, just after announcing a public spending freeze, Fillon was busily proclaiming that “there was – and would never be – an austerity plan in France”.

In March 2008, Fillon stuck to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s line, selling government reforms as measures to “streamline spending” rather than slashing budgets.

Christine Lagarde
France’s Economy minister Christine Lagarde found a way around the "asterity" taboo in coining the expression “rilance” – a mix of the words “rigueur” [austerity in French] and “relance” [economic stimulus plan].

“Rilance”, explained the minister, is a “subtle blend” obtained by “reducing public spending as painlessly as possible, in sectors where the restrictions won’t hamper economic growth”.

Nicolas Sarkozy
The French president has always refused to use the term “austerity”, instead employing the expression “Rigorous Republic” [République Rigoureuse] in a televised interview on July 11.

So wha t is the difference between rigor and austerity? “Being rigorous simply means a return to [budgetary] stability,” explained the president, who has avoided the term “austerity” like the plague since the start of the economic downturn.

In March 2008, as the global economy nose-dived, the President told French daily Le Figaro that he “didn’t believe in austerity measures, they lead nowhere”.

Frédéric Lefebvre
UMP party spokesman Frederic Lefebvre was the brains behind the “Rigorous Republic”, expression used by Sarkozy.

By coining the expression, Lefebvre had actually intended to put another senior UMP figure in line. Party leader Jean-François Copé had dared, in an interview on radio station Europe 1 on May 10, to call government reforms “austerity measures”, because, he said “there’s no point fighting about words”.

Lefebvre promptly shot back, arguing that “economically speaking, austerity means higher taxes. I wouldn’t call our measures austerity measures, because we’ve chosen to cut spending instead. They’re rigorous measures”.


Date created : 2010-07-16