The world changes. The Cold War, which was the impetus behind setting up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, ended 20 years ago. Now France is rejoining the Western fold. President Sarkozy is a conservative but not a Gaullist. He's an Atlanticist. It's too bad that he didn't use better judgment when he cozied up to George W. Bush in 2007. But that's just an opinion.
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Sarkozy is also a determined tax-cutter. Yesterday he said in a press conference that he was not elected to raise taxes on the wealthy. "My goal is to encourage people with money to come invest in France, in our factories and business, not to discourage such investment" by raising taxes on the rich, Sarkozy said.
The term used in France to describe limits on the highest income tax rates is le bouclier fiscal, the tax shield. In 2006, the highest tax bracket in France was 60% — that's how much people who make more than $400,000 U.S. (about 350K euros) a year can be taxed. In 2007, that rate was lowered to 50%. In light of the current economic crunch, proposals had been floated to raise the rate again.
Sarkozy and his ministers are convinced that the wealthy will invest their money elsewhere if tax rates are bumped up again, and that France will be poorer for it.
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Big strikes and demonstrations are planned for tomorrow, 19 March 2009, all around France. Something like 75% of people polled say they are unhappy with President Sarkozy's policies on economic matters. The strikers will be both public and private sector workers, as well as students.
The Paris newspaper Le Monde says a "massive mobilization" is expected. Employees at the Social Security administration, the labor department, and the justice department, as well the postal service, have given notice that they will go out on strike. Many schools will be closed, including universities.
Public transit in Paris will not be greatly affected, authorities say, with most bus and metro lines running as usual. The national rail network will be on reduced schedules, however, with about 60% of TGVs (high-speed trains) running and fewer than 50% of local trains. Air traffic will also be "perturbed," as the expression goes, from Wednesday evening until Friday morning.
It's spring, and there are often big labor movements in France when the weather turns warmer and the sun comes back out. It's a chance for people to get outdoors and blow off some steam. That's not to disparage the motives of the strikers. It's just that there are many reasons why people decide to participate in what, on some levels, becomes a big national party.
The solidarity definitely feels good, judging from my limited experience of it and the images you see on television. And it shows the national government how strongly people feel about its policies and programs.
Here in Saint-Aignan, we aren't greatly affected by such goings-on, unless we want to take the train or unless there are power cuts. Otherwise, life goes on.