By accident or design, that was the day before a Quebec minister made public the outline of the Parti Quebecois governments Charter of Values. Charter of Secularism The French Charter of Secularism will be posted in all educational institutions in the country. But it does little more than restate the principles of republican France as laid out in the law of 1905. Its a far cry from President Hollandes first idea, which was to enshrine the key clauses of that law in the French constitution. The proposed charter would bar Quebec’s public sector employees including everyone from civil servants to teachers, provincial court judges, daycare workers, police, health-care personnel, municipal employees and university staff from wearing a hijab, turban, kippa, large visible crucifix or other “ostentatious” religious symbols while on the job. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press) But even the Charter was enough to upset the Muslim establishment in France. The French Council of the Muslim Religion objected immediately, saying the charter was stigmatizing members of their faith with its allusions. The allusion it objected to specifically was the clause which guarantees equality between girls and boys in school. As for banning veils in universities, as was suggested this summer by a government advisory body called the National Council of Integration, that idea was quietly junked by the government. The reason isnt hard to find. Frances Muslim population is almost 5 million, close to 8 per cent of the total population and the largest Muslim minority in Europe. The size of that population, added to the publicity around successive laws that almost everyone interprets as aimed largely at Muslims, has increased tensions and widened the gap between the majority and that particular minority. Recent polls illustrate it: over 80 per cent of the French polled want MORE laws outlawing veils in streets and schools, two-thirds dont think Muslims are integrating properly in the country, and 43 per cent dont want to see any more mosques built in France. Thats almost half the country, and the figure is double what it was a dozen years ago. Not surprisingly, French Muslims worry about those figures and younger ones, who were born in France and see themselves as French, resent them. The Socialist government which, when in opposition, disapproved of the last law in 2011 banning burqas in the street, also worries about the figures. The main beneficiary of the laws, the debates, the worries and the tension has been the far-right Front National, which happily stokes the fires with incendiary quotes at every opportunity. The country, as President Hollande put it, needs cooling off.

Quebec charter of values plan could take a few pages from France: Don Murray

In the past two weeks France announced a pension reform that avoided lifting the retirement age and plans for a larger-than-expected deficit this year. Theres always the question whether the glass is half full or half empty with France, Rehn said today. France is going into the right direction in terms of economic reforms but there is still much more to do. Hollandes pension plan will extend working lives to 43 years by 2035 from 41 years currently. Yet the increase avoids accelerating an increase in the effective retirement age until 2020, relying instead on higher contributions from employees and employers to trim the retirement systems deficit in the meantime. The government has pledged to offset the increase for employers to hold down labor costs, though it has yet to specify how. Negative Impact The pensions overhaul must not add costs for business or discourage employment, Rehn said earlier this week in Le Figaro newspaper. Were still waiting to hear how the negative impact on labor costs will be compensated. Moscovici said he had a long meeting with Rehn last week in St. Petersburg and that the discussion was serious and constructive. The two men have excellent relations, he said. Hollandes Socialist government also announced this week that it expects to have a budget deficit equivalent to 4.1 percent of gross domestic product this year and 3.6 percent in 2014, before bringing the shortfall below 3 percent the following year. The commission had predicted a 2013 deficit of 3.9 percent of GDP. The difference is due to the slower-than-expected economic recovery, Moscovici said, adding that the 2014 deficit-reduction effort will rely on 15 billion euros ($20 billion) of spending cuts and only 3 billion euros of tax increases, in line with commission recommendations. Resilient Economy France is a country that is changing quickly, Moscovici said. The objective is to have a more resilient economy, he said. The finance minister also pointed to Frances low borrowing costs as evidence of the credibility of its policy. The premium France pays over Germany to borrow for 10 years is currently 56 basis points, down from 80 points in November last year and more than 200 points in late 2011. The country also pays about 40 points less than the U.K.