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French government's charm offensive hits US

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French government's charm offensive hits US
France's whizzkid economy minister told The New York Times how he'll fix France. Photo: AFP
16:00 CEST+02:00
As part of an apparent charm offensive by the French government to convince the world it's open for business, the country's new economy minister told The New York Times that France needs to "shift its social model" but not become like the UK or the US.

The flattering profile of Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron in the New York Times couldn’t come at a better time for France, which has launched an effort to detonate its image as a bastion of anti-business socialists, though not everyone was impressed.

A day after Prime Minister Manuel Valls told bankers ‘My government is pro-business’ during a speech in the beating heart of the London’s financial district, Macron got his chance to spread the word.

The millionaire former Rothschild banker who’s already helped President François Hollande draft his job-growth initiative that will cut taxes for businesses, told the New York Times France is going to have to change its course.

“For me being a Socialist today is about defending the unemployed, but also defending businessmen who want to create a company, and those who need jobs,” he said. “We have to shift the social model from a lot of formal protections toward loosening bottlenecks in the economy.”

French political expert and researcher at the prestigious Sciences Po university, Bruno Cautrés told The Local on Tuesday his comments were advertising, pure and simple.

"Above all these words are intended to calm the fears in Brussels," Cautrés said. "It clearly appears to be a public relations campaign to show that France is making an effort, that it’s difficult and Brussels should not reject France’s budget."

He added: "It’s seems pretty unlikely that the words of Manuel Valls are going to change the opinion of British businessmen that France is anti-finance, bureaucratic country with taxes that are too high.” 

French mind

For Macron the Times profile was also an opportunity to say what France needs, besides, of course, a couple million jobs. He noted the French would benefit from a little positive thinking.

“But we are always obsessed by our own weaknesses,” he added. “It’s sort of a French state of mind.”

Macron's sunnier approach comes in contrast to his predecessor Arnaud Montebourg, who was fired for publicly slamming Hollande's plan to fix France's stagnant economy that is saddled with record unemployment. 

The 36-year-old graduate of France's top civil service school ENA considers California’s Silicon Valley an improvement with its “crazy, positive, can-do mentality.”

Yet he made it clear that France isn’t about the scrap its Socialist model for how things work on the other side of the Channel or the Atlantic.

“I don’t believe that killing the French model in order to become the UK or the United States overnight is the solution,” he said. “You have a big debate on inequality there, and for our society, a lot of inequality would not be bearable.”

And if his new bosses don’t follow through on their promises to fix France, the task for which he was hired, Macron says he’ll walk away.

“The deal I had with the president and the prime minister was to deliver. If they decide not to deliver, I will move.”

He added: “But I do think that there is a strong conviction that there is no choice but to reform this country. It will probably be painful, and perhaps we will fail in the end. But France will succeed.”

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