‘The recession is behind us’ – French economy predicted to rebound after Covid slump

The French economy will rebound strongly this year from a deep recession sparked by Covid-19, the country's central bank chief said on Tuesday.

'The recession is behind us' - French economy predicted to rebound after Covid slump
A ray of light shines over the Paris landmark Arc de Triomphe. Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

Growth will reach at least five percent in 2021, Bank of France governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau told France Info radio, a forecast that “comforted” a prediction the bank made in December.

 “The recession is behind us,” he said.

French growth “will be among the strongest in Europe, clearly above the European average”, the governor said.

He said the current growth phase was likely to last for about one year, allowing the French economy to return to its pre-crisis levels by the spring or the summer of 2022.

It is now running around five percent below that level, he said.

The extent of the recovery will ultimately depend on a bounce back in consumer confidence once Covid restrictions holding back the economy are lifted, Villeroy de Galhau said.

But he said employment and public investment had done “better than we feared” since the crisis, justifying some optimism.

The French government is currently aiming for six percent growth this year.

French GDP slumped 8.3 percent in 2020, national statistics bureau Insee estimated in late January, saying that downturn had turned out to be less brutal than originally forecast.

A massive drop in consumer spending was behind much of the 2020 decline, while investment and foreign trade held up well, it said.

Separately, the Bank of France said Tuesday that first-quarter growth was likely to show “a slight increase” from the fourth quarter of 2020.

Some sectors, including the chemical and construction industries, were operating at normal levels but others – notably the aeronautics industry – had yet to recover from their Covid slump.

Cash flow levels were much more favourable in industry thanks to government loans than in services, the bank added.

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Biden hosts Macron for banquet as French president blasts ‘aggressive’ US subsidies

France's Emmanuel Macron was set to be hosted by President Joe Biden at the White House Thursday for a state visit mixing sumptuous ceremonies with hard-edged talks on transatlantic trade and how to manage a rising China.

Biden hosts Macron for banquet as French president blasts 'aggressive' US subsidies

A military honor guard was due to be standing ready at the White House to welcome the French leader, accompanied by his wife, Brigitte, before the two presidents meet in the Oval Office for what are expected to be substantial discussions as they seek to defuse tensions over what Macron has described as “aggressive” subsidies for US manufacturers.

They were to give a joint press conference ahead of winding up the day with a lavish dinner featuring French favorites of wine and cheese — but in both cases American-made.

The two governments have emphasized their historic links — France is the United States’ oldest ally — as well as their close partnership in the Western alliance confronting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, Macron made clear, in unusually blunt language, that he is not just in Washington to discuss the easy parts of the relationship.

At a lunch with lawmakers and business leaders Wednesday, he lashed out at Biden’s signature policy called the Inflation Reduction Act, which is set to pour billions of dollars into environmentally friendly industries, with strong backing for US-based manufacturers.

The White House touts the IRA legislation as a groundbreaking effort to reignite US manufacturing and promote renewable technologies. European Union governments are crying foul, threatening to launch a trade war by subsidizing their own green economy sector.

“This is super aggressive for our business people,” Macron said, warning that what he sees as unfair US practices will “kill” European jobs.

“The consequence of the IRA is that you will perhaps fix your issue but you will increase my problem. I’m sorry to be so straightforward,” Macron said.

The White House responded by insisting that the state visit is about the two presidents’ “warm relationship.”

US advances in the clean energy economy will help Europeans too, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. The IRA “presents significant opportunities for European firms as well as benefits to EU energy security. This is not a zero-sum game.”

In a speech later at the French embassy, Macron said the subsidies could become a real sticking point in US relations with Europe.

While voicing support for the environmental goals of the IRA, Macron said “these are choices that will split the West,” even as he agreed that ties remained solid for now.

On Wednesday evening, he and his wife joined Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for dinner in an Italian restaurant in Washington for a moment that was both private and “political,” according to an adviser to the Elysee, ahead of Thursday’s official events.

Also on Wednesday, Macron joined Vice President Kamala Harris at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss cooperation in space — and to propose putting the first Frenchman on the Moon.

Menu and music

Macron’s two busy days in Washington will culminate Thursday with the first formal state dinner of Biden’s presidency — the grand tradition having been shelved due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Grammy-award-winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform at the banquet, which the White House said will kick off with butter-poached Maine lobster, paired with caviar, delicata squash raviolo and tarragon sauce.

The main course features beef and triple-cooked butter potatoes, before leading to the cheese course of award-winning US brands, and finally orange chiffon cake, roasted pears with citrus sauce and creme fraiche ice cream.

Washing all that down will be three different wines — all from US vineyards.

China high on agenda

Trade tensions, however, are only part of the uncomfortable flip side to the red carpet occasion.

Another gripe in Europe is the high cost of US liquid natural gas exports — which have surged to help compensate for canceled Russian deliveries.

There is also divergence on how to deal with the rise of superpower China. The question — with Washington pursuing a more hawkish tone and EU powers trying to find a middle ground — is unlikely to see much progress.

“Europe has since 2018 its own, unique strategy for relations with China,” tweeted French embassy spokesman Pascal Confavreux in Washington.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said China will be “very high on the agenda” this week but stressed that both countries share a broad approach.

“We believe that not only France, but every other member of the G7 — frankly, our NATO allies too — see the threats and challenges posed by China in the same way.”