French president calls on people to love their country amid economic gloom

French president makes plea as country reels from record unemployment and anaemic growth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:45am


President Francois Hollande yesterday pleaded with the French to be proud of their country in an attempt to boost confidence at a time of enduring gloom over record unemployment and faltering growth.

Speaking in a televised interview, Hollande tried to persuade the country that his reforms were the right way forward despite opposition within his own ranks.

"There is a sort of illness which is not serious but can be contagious, where we are always deploring and denigrating. You have to be proud!" he said, referring to French people's well-known propensity to complain.

"Don't speak well of the president - I'm not asking you that much. Or of the government - I hope that will come - but speak well of your country."

His comments came hours after he presided over the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris. But at a time when the eurozone's second-largest economy is still faltering more than two years after Hollande took power, all eyes were on the president's televised interview - an annual tradition on France's national day and his first media outing in over two months.

Acknowledging that economic recovery in France was "too weak, too hesitant, too vulnerable," Hollande pointed to a major reform plan being implemented as a step in the right direction.

The so-called "responsibility pact" offers businesses €40 billion (HK$422 billion) worth of cuts to heavy taxes and social benefit charges in exchange for a pledge to create some 500,000 jobs by 2017.

The plan aims to boost companies' competitiveness and employment, as some 3.38 million people are out of work.

But it has proved controversial with those on the left of the Socialist party, who claim big business is being handed tax breaks funded by cuts in public spending with no obligation to do anything in return.

In a bid to appease critics, Hollande pledged to cut taxes next year for "several hundred thousand" people and also to boost jobs for young people by kickstarting apprenticeships.

Asked about allegations by former president Nicolas Sarkozy that he was the victim of political interference after he was charged with corruption and influence peddling, Hollande strenuously denied meddling in the justice system.