News / Economy

French Companies, Unions Question Hollande's New Vision

French President Francois Hollande addresses a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Jan. 14, 2014.
French President Francois Hollande addresses a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Jan. 14, 2014.
Reuters
French business raised doubts on Wednesday over Socialist President Francois Hollande's plan for public spending cuts and structural reform to revive the euro zone's second largest economy.

His allies hailed a new “social democrat” vision for France but unions said they were worried about job cuts to the army of state sector workers and far-left politicians accused him of a sell-out as he moved towards the political center.

Hollande, who has not denied magazine allegations last week of an affair with actress, deflected questions on his personal life at a marathon news conference on Tuesday unveiling plans to find at least 50 billion euros of spending cuts between 2015-2017 and cut corporate charges by 30 billion euros.

The European Commission said the moves should make French business more competitive. While France's main employers' group broadly welcomed the plan, it rejected his call for companies to commit to specific targets for new hires.

“What exactly is the magnitude of the structural reforms he announced? We need to have a clarification,” said Medef president Pierre Gattaz, who has suggested the French private sector could create an extra one million jobs if freed from excessive charges.

Critics say French public spending at around 57 percent of national output - some 12 points more than in neighboring Germany - is too high while the national audit office has said that French debt at 93.4 percent of GDP is “in the danger zone.”

But Hollande's plans prompted an onslaught of criticism from France's hard left and even from the far-right National Front's Marine Le Pen, who said he converted to “ultra-liberal” economics.

“It's called social democracy... and social democracy is on the left,” Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, a centrist leader in Hollande's Socialist Party, told LCI television.

“What is being proposed is a social compromise... it is an acceleration, an amplification of our line,” he replied when asked if Hollande - who in his 2012 campaign called the world of finance his “enemy” - had committed a U-turn.

Social democracy is the term used to describe the goal of creating welfare structures and social solidarity within a capitalist economy. In Europe, it is employed most notably in Germany in the name of the main party of the left.

But whereas Germany's Social Democrats disavowed Marxism at a 1959 conference in the Rhineland town of Bad Godesberg, France's Socialists have never had such a moment and remain a broad grouping in which centrists rub shoulders with staunch left-wingers such as Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg.

A spokeswoman for the German Finance Ministry said the proposals were “important” and Berlin had “a great deal of respect for the efforts and reform measures that have been announced.”

“U-turn of words"?

For over two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday, Hollande batted away questions about a celebrity magazine's revelations of a liaison with a French film actress and the future of his relationship with official partner Valerie Trierweiler.

The setpiece event was intended to expand on Hollande's conviction that “supply-side socialism” is needed to reform the euro zone's second largest economy while preserving a generous welfare model cherished by most French.

“A U-turn of words”, the right-leaning Le Figaro newspaper said in its Wednesday edition. “Hollande set free,” the left-wing Liberation daily said.

But while Hollande largely succeeded in ensuring domestic headlines focused on his economic plans rather than private life, the reaction among reform advocates was more mitigated.

The planned cuts to spending amount to some 18 billion euros a year for 2015, 2016, and 2017 - little higher than an existing rhythm set to shave 15 billion euros this year.

Moreover Hollande said the 30-billion-euro tax reduction to companies by alleviating them of the need to pay family benefit contributions by 2017 could be partly counter-financed by re-diverting 20 billion euros of existing tax credits.

“So the net win is only of the order of 10 billion euros whereas we were after 80,” said Gattaz.

Hollande's suggestion that France could find savings by rationalizing its multi-layered system of local government also raised concerns among trade unions over the fate of some 5.3 million “fonctionnaire” public sector workers.

Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government would not repeat an attrition policy tried out by conservative ex-leader Nicolas Sarkozy to replace only one out of two departing state sector workers.

However the moderate CFDT union that has backed Hollande's reforms up till now warned in a statement that it would watch closely any impact on staffing levels.

Independent economists welcomed Hollande's recognition of the need to cut spending but questioned whether the volume of cuts will be delivered and sufficient to mark a change.

“2014 could be a window of opportunity for Hollande,” said Christian Schulz, senior economist at German bank Berenberg.

“Convincing the left wing of his party and the unions of the need for supply-side reforms should be easier in times of high unemployment and economic underperformance,” he added.

Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted that Hollande had “abandoned the balancing act” within his own party by coming out as a social democrat rather than a left-leaning socialist.

But it added: “In Europe, and especially in Berlin, people will be watching closely to see if he can stay the course with his shift.”

A spokeswoman for the German Finance Ministry said the proposals were “important” and that Germany had “a great deal of respect for the efforts and reform measures that have been announced.”

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7492
JPY
USD
102.27
GBP
USD
0.5960
CAD
USD
1.0950
INR
USD
61.300

Rates may not be current.