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French government predicts rosy future (in 2025)

By Lori Hinnant

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 19 2013 9:55 a.m. MDT

PARIS — Full employment, plenty of cheap housing, a new Industrial Revolution and Police 3.0. Those are the French government's predictions for the year 2025.

Leaders in the Socialist administration, who are under criticism for the struggling economy and rising joblessness, met Monday to discuss the way forward. Grappling with an 11 percent unemployment rate, high taxes, and a declining industrial sector, they looked to better times in the future — the distant future.

"The countries that succeed are those that look ahead," said Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. "France has been lagging in a globalized world and at times has doubted its future."

There were skeptics.

"Voila, a government aware of its inabilities and weaknesses that is trying to cover them up by conjuring up dreams of a radiant future," said Roger Karoutchi, of the conservative UMP.

Here are some of their predictions, coupled with a more sober look at reality:

UNEMPLOYMENT

Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, predicted anyone who wanted a job would have one: "Full employment is a realistic goal."

But France's unemployment has been historically high — it hasn't fallen below 7 percent since 1983 — due partly to rigid labor laws that increase the costs of hiring and firing.

And the trends aren't promising: independent experts believe unemployment will actually rise over the next 18 months. The French Observatory for Economic Forecasts predicts it will increase to 11.6 percent by the end of 2014, while the OECD, a global economic think tank, expects a somewhat more optimistic 11.2 percent.

The government reached a compromise in January with unions and employers designed to relax some of the regulations, but the International Monetery Fund said in its latest report on France that "significant avenues for reform remain."

HOUSING

Renting or buying in France is a tangle of high prices and red tape. The country that came up with the word "bureaucracy" has elevated it to an art form when it comes to housing. Much as employers are loathe to hire because it is so hard to fire, landlords are reluctant to rent because it is so hard to evict tenants who stop paying.

Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, whose office has records pre-dating the Black Plague in the 14th century, wants to build 6 million new homes by 2025, with one-third of them subsidized. She predicted on Monday that future homes would be plentiful and affordable, and hunting for a new one would become "a pleasurable stage of life."

France's efforts to tame public spending and reduce its budget deficit threaten those plans. Although Paris — France's largest population center by far — has several projects under construction, it's nowhere near the amount needed under Duflot's 2025 projection.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Manuel Valls, France's top security official, offered this prediction: "A police force that reflects the evolution of society, with the advantage of new technology — I'm talking about a police 2.0, even 3.0 — but also a force on the ground."

The government has used technology to its advantage in recent months, most especially in the field of DNA identification, which Valls said helped locate a militant accused of stabbing a soldier within days of the attack.

But the police are mainly struggling with the non-technological side of public safety. Relations are tense with the growing Muslim population, especially in the suburbs on the outskirts of Paris, where riots have erupted in recent years. Earlier this summer, a police station was torched and about 250 people clashed with riot police in Trappes.

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