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Learning English - Words in the News
French economic changes ahead
Nicholas Sarkozy arrives at work
France's new President

The economy is one of the most important and urgent issues for Nicholas Sarkozy, France's new President. He focussed on change during his election campaign, but trade unions are expected to strongly disagree with some of the changes he is planning. Here's our Europe Business Reporter, Alex Ritson:

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There's no doubting the scale of the economic problems facing Nicholas Sarkozy. France's unemployment rate hasn't fallen below 8 percent in a quarter of a century and its economic growth rate during 2006 was the slowest of any nation in the European Union, except Portugal. But the new President has promised change.

He wants to make it easier for businesses to hire and fire workers. Anyone who rejects a job offer will lose their unemployment benefit. The civil service will be slimmed down to help fund big tax cuts for both businesses and individuals. And any time the French work above the thirty-five hour week will be completely tax free.

These measures won't go down well with trade unions - who in the past have organised campaigns of open defiance to force French presidents with plans for painful reform to back down. But Mr. Sarkozy has made it an election pledge that unions will no longer be able to bring the country to a standstill. Workers in key areas like public transport will face new requirements to provide minimum levels of service even during strikes. The unions may not like it - but the new President's entire programme of reform depends on his winning any standoff.

Alex Ritson, BBC Europe Business Reporter

Listen to the words

a quarter of a century
twenty-five years - a century is one hundred years

hire and fire
employ and sack or dismiss from a job, e.g. because of poor work, bad behaviour or lack of money within the business

unemployment benefit
money that's paid to people to live on until they find a job

slimmed down
reduced, here, made up of a smaller number of people

won't go down well
will not be popular, seen as positive, easily accepted

open defiance
obvious disobedience, very public refusals to cooperate

to back down
to change their minds, discontinue their plans

to bring the country to a standstill
to completely stop the country from functioning normally

planned changes for improvement

a tense time during which all negotiations have come to a stop and neither side will compromise

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