France seethes as Sarkozy sunbathes

The richest segment of French society are pledging another three per cent of their annual incomes to help the country battle its deepening debt crisis. The situation is explosive and France could be next to witness riots like those in Britain.

The French Prime Minister has announced on Friday some 12 billion euros worth of cuts, alongside gloomy forecasts for growth. France still enjoys an AAA credit rating, but with one of the highest debt ratios among the world's top-rated states, many investors bet on it to follow the US and be downgraded.

Money used to repay interest on France’s debt this year has overtaken education and defense expenditures. The country’s huge debt burden has led to chronic underinvestment in schools and hospitals. The equipment is outdated and there is not enough of it.

“Boats that carry too much water sink,” fears Wallerand de Saint-Just, vice president of the National Front.

The new cuts, though, may not be enough to resolve the debt crisis, economists believe.

“We can compare it with people saying they will buy a Lamborghini, but only buy a Porsche, and they call that austerity,” says Pieter Cleppe, head of the Open Europe think-tank.

The situation is getting so bad and explosive that France could witness riots like those in Britain at the beginning of August, with deprived regions the likely ignition-point. The inner cities and suburbs are socially segregated to a very high extent, far more than in the UK or Germany, economists claim.

While France appears on the brink of a new chapter in the financial crisis and a possible outburst of social anger looms – students are already planning protests – the country’s president Nicolas Sarkozy is flying as far from France as he can: to the Pacific island of New Caledonia.

Sarkozy is letting his prime minister and government face the public’s reaction to the cuts, and social protests can flood the streets of Paris while “he is bathing in the sun”. It may be a clever political move for now, but in the long term it may bring Sarkozy much greater problems which he will have to tackle anyway, the French Le Figaro newspaper argues.