Departing French economy minister lashes out at austerity

25th August 2014, Comments 0 comments

France's departing economy minister on Monday launched a broadside at austerity policies he said had deepened the crisis, as he confirmed he would not serve in the reshuffled cabinet.

Arnaud Montebourg, whose weekend criticism of the country's economic direction prompted Prime Minister Manuel Valls to tender the government's resignation, said the austerity drive in France and Europe was a "financial absurdity".

The policies had "extended" France's economic crisis which, along with Europe, was "living through its worst crisis since 1929."

"I believed it necessary to take back my freedom. In the same way he (Prime Minister Manuel Valls) accepted to give it to me," said the firebrand left-winger in a short speech less than an hour after being called into the prime minister's office.

"What will I do with this new freedom? ... I will go back and work with the French, for them. I will continue to defend ... what I think is right for France," he added.

Montebourg said Education Minister Benoit Hamon and Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti had made the same choice.

Filippetti wrote to Hollande earlier on Monday to say she did not want a post in the new cabinet.

Montebourg, no stranger to courting controversy during his political career, said: "The policies of cutting deficits end up not reducing deficits and for this reason are a financial absurdity because, by restricting growth, they prevent their own goals from being achieved."

"There is another path for Europe and for France," he said.

Austerity is "not just ineffective but ... unfair because it hits the working and middle-class with a rise in tax ... and curbs their spending power," he said.

The policy of reducing deficits drives voters "to reject their political leaders, the European project and drives them into the arms of extremist parties," he said -- an allusion to the rise of France's far-right Front National.

To continue such policies "will surely end up endangering the Republic, its solidity and its future," he claimed.

The minister said he had pleaded with Valls and Hollande to "refuse, for our country, excessive measures which risked damaging and wiping out our economy".

The results of his inability to convince them were clear, he added. "France has ground to a halt and the unemployment trend is continuing its dangerous upward trend while everyone else, outside Europe, it is going down."

France's economy has registered zero growth in the first six months of the year and the government has been forced to halve its full-year forecast to 0.5 percent, amid record high unemployment.

Similar criticism by Montebourg over the weekend prompted Valls to tender the government's resignation to Hollande, who asked the prime minister to form a new government by Tuesday.

© 2014 AFP

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