France may sell real estate to cut deficit, review seniors’ unemployment benefits – minister

PARIS (Reuters) – France wants to reduce government spending on office space and may consider real estate sales in a bid to reduce the state deficit, the budget and finance ministers said in a media interview on Sunday.

The government also plans to review unemployment benefits for seniors, they said.

Budget Minister Thomas Cazenave told La Tribune that the government wants to reduce the amount of office space occupied by the administration by 25%.

“There is real leverage for savings there, in particular given the new ways of working,” he said, referring to the increase in home working following the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the ratio of office space area per civil servant is 24 square metres (258 square feet), far above private industry standards, and the government wants to reduce that to 16 square metres.

“We may also consider real estate sales,” he added.

Asked about whether the government could achieve its target of reducing the unemployment rate from 7% to 5% by 2027, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said this would require reviewing social policies, notably unemployment benefits.

“We have worked hard to move from 9% to 7%, but to move to 5%, courageous choices need to be made… All the schemes that feed seniors’ unemployment must be reviewed,” Le Maire said.

Cazenave also confirmed that the government will seek an additional 12 billion euros of spending cuts for the 2025 budget, as discussed with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday.

“We confirm spending cut targets of 16 billion euros ($17.5 billion) for the 2024 budget, and we are already preparing 12 billion of savings for the 2025 budget,” he said, adding that the government was still aiming to reduce its deficits to 4.4% of GDP in 2024 and 3.7% in 2025.

($1 = 0.9168 euros)

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Hugh Lawson)