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Unemployment - the big issue in France's presidential elections

Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

At a 12 year high of nearly ten per cent, unemployment is frequently cited in surveys as the main concern among voters.

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According to Les Echos, the French financial daily, almost 900 factories have been closed since the economic crisis of 2008, with the loss of some 100,000 jobs in industry.

Sarkozy aims to push through measures before the election in a bid to reduce unemployment.

He hopes to make employers more willing to hire staff by removing some of the social security contributions they pay and including them instead in a sales tax, dubbed by some as a “Social VAT”.

He also wants to give employers the power to negotiate working time with their staff: to reduce hours and salaries at company level if deemed necessary, in order to maintain threatened jobs.

Opponents point out that Sarkozy had five years to introduce such reforms and say the moves now smack of desperation.

Socialist François Hollande promises 60,000 new jobs in schools, and plans to reduce tax on smaller companies.

He wants improved credit for research and says he will force companies who re-locate outside France to pay back any state subsidies received.

Critics say he is vague about how to pay for his plans.

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