By Mark John
PARIS (Reuters) - Nearly three-quarters of French want President Francois Hollande to push further ahead with economic reforms and are ready to make personal sacrifices as long the pain is fairly distributed, a survey by pollster BVA found on Wednesday.
No fewer than 67 percent agreed with the statement "if we carry on like this, we are headed for catastrophe", according to results of the telephone and Internet survey of nearly 1,000 people conducted between May 29-30.
The findings cast doubt on a common international perception that the French are resistant to change and suggest Hollande, a Socialist, has more room for maneuver than past leaders, who curtailed or toned down reforms due to strikes and mass street protests.
"Demand for real change and courageous reforms is clearly there," BVA concluded of the survey's results, which it said showed a "real calling into question" of decades of French political leadership.
A full 80 percent concurred with the statement that "our leaders have never had the courage to undertake the difficult reforms which our country needs".
The same proportion said they were "ready to accept sacrifices as long as the burden was shared in a fair way and that the overall direction was clear" while 74 percent backed deeper reforms of the labor market, pensions and jobless benefits.
The survey was conducted last week just as the European Commission urged France to rein in public spending, cut labor costs and reform its pension system in return for winning two extra years to bring its budget deficit within EU targets.
But the French public's openness to the type of reform backed by Brussels is not enough to counter growing euroscepticism in a country which is losing influence in the European Union due to the rise of economic heavyweight Germany.
A separate six-country poll released by Gallup on Wednesday found that nearly two-thirds of people in France, a founder member of what is now the EU, believe the bloc is heading in the wrong direction.
"The French are losing confidence in globalization and growing insecure in their position within Europe," Gallup's Anna Manchin wrote in an accompanying analysis.
Elected last year on promises to restore growth and jobs, Hollande's personal popularity ratings have crumbled as France slides into recession and jobless claims hit new records.
The Socialist leader has already implemented some moves to reduce high labor costs and has promised laws setting out a revamp of the pension system by the end of this year.
He has argued that his reform record can be judged only over the full course of his five-year term, while critics - notably in Brussels and Germany - want him to step up the pace.
The BVA survey did not include comparisons with the French public's past readiness for reforms, but it follows other indications of an appetite for change.
While Hollande has so far ruled out any increase to the statutory retirement age of 62, a survey by pollster Ipsos released last month found that 61 percent of respondents would back such a change. Over three-quarters said they did not trust Hollande's government to make the system sustainable.
Even the modest reforms carried out so far by Hollande have enraged some left-wing allies. Yet his Socialist Party has a small but absolute majority in the lower house of parliament and there has been no sign yet of an all-out mutiny by deputies.
That leaves France's five main trade unions - which orchestrated weeks-long strikes in 1995 that prompted the conservative government of the day to back down on pension reform - as a possible source of resistance.
But Hollande already won the support of three of them for moves aimed at making labor rules more flexible, and will try to use the same tactic later this month for his pension reform by including them in consultations with French employer groups.
(additional reporting by Luke Baker and Anders Melin in Brussels; editing by David Stamp)