French PM bids to restore pro-business stance in London

6th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was on a mission in London on Monday to defend his government' economic reforms and pro-business stance in the face of a stream of criticism known as "French-bashing".

Valls met counterpart David Cameron and French investors in the City, and was due to give a speech to British business leaders in the heart of London's financial district.

Relations have improved between London and Paris since 2012, when Cameron said Britain would "roll out the red carpet" for French executives following the election of President Francois Hollande, who had declared the finance sector "his enemy".

As part of a "clarification" of France's economic line, Valls made a speech in August, well-received on the other side of the Channel, in which he said: "I love business".

The French prime minister, who arrived in London late on Sunday, began his trip by meeting the French business community in London, home to more than 350,000 French people.

During the visit, Valls was expected to trumpet French reforms to boost competitiveness, growth and public finances and to emphasise the need for joint action, at the European level, to boost growth and jobs through dynamic investment policies.

- UK eurosceptics influential -

It is the same message Valls carried to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September, and which he will take to the Netherlands and Luxembourg on October 20.

"There is a clear commitment by the prime minister to persuade all of our European partners of what is happening in France," explained a French diplomatic source.

"We see the European press and the attention focused on us. They are asking 'what is happening in France?', hence the need for us to carry out these visits," she added.

If negotiations with fiscal hawk Merkel were tough, they threaten to be even harder with Cameron, who is currently trying to appease the eurosceptic wing of his Conservative Party and fend off the anti-European UK Independence Party ahead of next year's general election.

He has already promised to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 on Britain's membership of the European Union if his party wins the election.

The meeting comes amid criticism of France for not doing enough to reduce its budget deficit next year and suggestions made by an EU source to AFP that Brussels is set to reject the new Valls government.

In contrast, Cameron has pursued a stringent policy of fiscal austerity, despite growth forecasts of 3.5 percent for 2015.

Valls also faces a stiff battle in overcoming "French-bashing", a popular sport north of the Channel.

The director of upscale department store chain John Lewis, Andy Street, last week apologised after saying that "nothing works" in France, and that the country was "finished".

Valls will try and overturn this perception in an interview with BBC's flagship Newsnight programme, to be aired late on Monday.

In the afternoon, Valls is likely to find a more sympathetic ear when he meets Ed Miliband, leader of the centre-left opposition Labour Party.

© 2014 AFP

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