France - Domestic policy

Chirac pledged throughout the 1995 presidential campaign that his number one priority would be to address the high unemployment rate plaguing the French economy and the poverty associated with it. In the heat of the campaign, Chirac promised an array of programs that would deal with the unemployment issue and spur job creation. At the same time, he promised to lower taxes and to cut the budget deficit. These could not be accomplished simultaneously; especially in an economy that has had zero growth rates in the early 1990s and was growing only slowly by the end of the decade. Chirac has continued privatization of state-owned companies, which may lead to job losses. Pledges made during the campaign raised expectations in many sectors of French society, and when it became clear that Chirac could not deliver, tensions in the government grew. Chirac called for parliamentary elections in May 1997, ten months earlier than were required by law. Voters surprised Chirac by handing the Socialist Party control of parliament, pushing Chirac's center-right coalition out. Legislative elections in 2002, however, restored majority rule to Chirac's party. The legislature has successfully reduced the workweek from 39 to 35 hours to help ease the unemployment problem, and unemployment has been lowered significantly. Following his 2002 reelection, Chirac pledged more reforms to help the country's youth find jobs.

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