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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/2007-10-12_P...

by Paule Masson

French Prime Minister François Fillon admits the purpose of his reforms: “Fewer services, fewer staff.”

Translated Wednesday 24 October 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

The French prime minister wants to give the coup de grâce to the French system of equal access for all to government services.

“Government reform presupposes that each and every one of us accept fewer services, fewer staff, and less government in his locality.” Prime Minister François Fillon let the cat out of the bag on Wednesday evening at the Fall meeting of UMP reformers. The 100-strong group of legislators, which defines itself as the “intransigent guardian of reform” applauded. Those who believed the head of state’s charm operation, in which he stated that he wanted to “modernize” government service “to meet the needs of today’s society” got a cold awakening. Those who had already figured out the government’s real goal were reassured that the purpose of reforming the state machine is a significant reduction of its area of action.

As there are, even in the ranks of the governing majority, local elected officials who complain, the one because the courthouse in his town is threatened with closure, another because the hospital will shut down, and a third because a reorganization of government services will result in the tobacconist running the post office, the Prime Minister called his troops to order: “There is no such thing as an overall reform of government which satisfies everybody and which does not eliminate any government service in the country.” François Fillon also revealed the reason for his haste: “Marked by the memory of two events, the 1988 failure and the 1995 strikes, our party has, despite itself, become convinced, little by little, that reform must by prudent, limited, and even hidden. But you cannot really make reforms on the sly, no more than you can make a reform all alone, from the top of the state hierarchy.” A few days before October 18, the date around which more and more social protest movements in government services are gravitating, the UMP party and its elected officials have been called to close ranks.

Even though he has been less cautious than French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister François Fillon has not flubbed things. He is carrying out orders. In his September 19 speech on the civil service, Nicolas Sarkozy explicitly called on him to reform the administration, to “re-found the state.” Sarkozy’s vision of what the state represents in a society where all the answers are individual ones has become the dominant one. The national government must be cut back and must spin off its local services. It must delegate services to private enterprises or slough off the missions which are no longer felt to be its responsibility onto local government. These plans are already being realized. The reform of judicial districts will lead to the disappearance of 400 court districts, mainly small claims courts and industrial tribunals. The merger of the national employment agency and the institution that manages unemployment funds and pays unemployment benefits, which is now being prepared, will lead to the closure of service counters. The merger of the internal revenue service and the public accounting office, directed by Budget Minister Eric Woerth, is in reality a huge effort to rationalize these services. As concerns the public health service, the elimination of local hospitals is already under way, with “technical platforms” being concentrated in the big metropolises. The school system will not escape from this downsizing. Nicolas Sarkozy envisages a smaller school system as a result of curriculum and school day reforms. At the July 2007 UMP convention on government services, he was already talking about “regrouping several schools in a single town.”

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