Macron chooses government to rebuild French economy

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Frenchman Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his government on Monday, entrusting his new team with the mission of saving an economy destroyed by the coronavirus. In February, before the outbreak of the pandemic, France benefited from a new control of public finances, from faster growth than the euro area average, from the lowest unemployment rate for more than a decade and a class record for attracting foreign investors.

Four months later, the country is plunged into the abyss. Production collapsed during the foreclosure, debt reached dangerous levels and job destruction was massive.

After appointing Jean Castex, little known, as Prime Minister last week, Macron retained his trusted minister, Bruno Le Maire, for the task of reconstruction. The Mayor obtains additional responsibility for the “recovery” in his portfolio and will be supported by three junior ministers focused on public finance, industry and small businesses. Jean-Yves Le Drian, a veteran socialist, remains Minister of Foreign Affairs.

“I am aware of the overwhelming task at a time when France is facing the most serious economic crisis since 1929,” Le Maire said Tuesday in a ceremony marking its renewal. “My roadmap is clear and simple: it will be the recovery – morning, noon and evening. ”

The first step for Macron and Le Maire will be to deliver a major stimulus package this summer, in addition to a series of targeted plans for the aviation, automotive and tourism sectors.

“The president must explain his plans quickly,” said Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, president of the federation of French businesses, Medef, at the annual conference of Economic Meetings this weekend. “Each day that passes costs money in terms of public finances, and above all economic agents need confidence. ”

A central problem for Macron, however, is how to revive the economy without adding to the country’s debt burden. The 42-year-old president never managed to reduce France’s public borrowing before the crisis, leaving him at a disadvantage compared to Germany and other northern European countries.

“Germany has become Keynesian, with a countercyclical budgetary policy consisting in rebuilding the room for maneuver when things are going well and in reducing the debt,” declared the governor of the Banque de France, François Villeroy de Galhau, during the same conference just before the government reshuffle. “Germany has succeeded, France has not. ”

To clean up the country’s finances, Le Maire said his administration is trying to separate the additional public debt accumulated during the crisis from the existing stock.

“There is a real question about public finances and debt levels in France – we will answer them,” said Le Maire on Tuesday. “There is no question that the economic recovery will take place in the long term at the expense of French public finances”.

But the vehicle he sketched, which would delay payment of the debt, has drawn criticism from opposition lawmakers who say it’s just a way of avoiding solving France’s problems. high public spending and low productivity.

“It’s a funny way to say that I don’t want to look – close your eyes, cover your ears and come back to life as before,” said Eric Woerth, head of the National Assembly’s finance committee. “We never fix things, we plug holes all the time. ”

The president has repeatedly promised voters that he will “reinvent himself” after the crisis and has already announced massive investment in public hospitals and has appealed to green voters. So far, it has pledged an additional 15 billion euros ($ 17 billion) over the next two years to accelerate the transition to a greener economy.

To achieve a greener program, Macron appointed Barbara Pompili minister of ecological transition. Pompili was previously chairman of the commission for sustainable development in the National Assembly and served in the government of Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande.

Greenpeace welcomed Macron’s choice, but said it would likely have little impact on the policies and structure of the promised stimulus package.

“To be credible, Emmanuel Macron will have to change his policy more than his government,” the group said by email. “Macron’s” new path “looks like another dead end for the environment. ”

Since taking office in 2017, Macron has pushed a series of pro-business measures, lowering capital taxes to boost investment, rewriting laws to make work more flexible, and redesigning training to adapt skills to meet needs employers.

But the agenda was half finished, and in the crisis, Macron again lost support for his plans, including a redesign of pensions to create a universal pension system.

“There is such opposition in this country,” said Laurent Berger, secretary general of the reformist union CFDT who previously supported the plans. “We don’t want to see it explode in our faces over the summer or fall. ”

The crisis also forced Macron to delay changes to unemployment benefits that would have reduced well-being for some. Unemployment is set to rise sharply, and unions are demanding that the changes be permanently removed.

“These shock absorbers are useful in a crisis,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the left-wing CGT union. “To stick to the reform of unemployment social assistance is to live in the world of yesterday. “

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