French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to push for full employment and continue economic reforms and tax cuts at the launch of his manifesto for next month’s election.
“Full employment is achievable,” he said at a news conference in Aubervilliers on the outskirts of Paris on Thursday. “It means doing for the next five years what we have done for the past five.”
Unemployment in France has fallen to 7.4 per cent of the workforce, the lowest level in more than a decade, although it remains much higher than in countries such as Germany and the UK despite many employers’ complaints that they remain desperately short of workers.
“We promised to reduce unemployment, and despite the crises we did so,” said Macron, who is the clear favorite to win the election. “We promised to reduce taxes, and despite the crises we did so.”
He acknowledged he had failed to transform and simplify the country’s costly pension system, blaming the coronavirus pandemic for slowing the reform, but confirmed that if re-elected for a second term he would reintroduce an adjusted reform to progressively extend the retirement age to 65 from 62.
Macron also promised to save businesses € 7bn a year in “production taxes” – taxes based on turnover, staff or buildings rather than profit – by abolishing the CVAE, a value-added deduction charged by local authorities.
Most business leaders credit Macron and his finance minister Bruno Le Maire with making the economy more competitive by reforming the labor market, including the unemployment insurance system, as well as reducing corporate taxes and starting to dismantle bureaucratic obstacles for business.
On the left, however, he is often accused of being an aloof “president of the rich”, one of whose first acts in 2017 was to abolish the wealth tax, while politicians on the right and far-right accuse him of allowing crime to flourish and failing to curb the flow of legal and illegal immigrants.
Macron’s lead in the opinion polls over his rivals has widened in recent weeks, with the war in Ukraine convincing many voters that they need to stick with the leader they have. He is given about 30 per cent of voting intentions in the first round of the election on April 10, more than 10 points ahead of his main challenger, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
At the launch of his manifesto, Macron said he would intensify efforts to strengthen the strategic and economic sovereignty of France and the EU. This included continued increases in military spending and “massive” investments in industrial sectors such as electric car battery production and renewable and nuclear energy as well as in agricultural self-sufficiency – all made more urgently by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the surge in energy and commodity prices.
“We will need to make historic choices for our nation and for Europe,” he said, suggesting that France would fully nationalize the state-controlled electricity group EDF as part of its efforts to reorganize the way energy prices are fixed in the EU. “We need to take control of the capital of various industrial actors,” he said.
France’s national auditor has criticized the Macron administration for allowing the underlying budget deficit to surge to 5 per cent of gross domestic product – even without accounting for emergency spending during the pandemic – which has contributed to a sharp increase in public sector debt.
But the government has continued to spend freely since the start of the war, with at least € 22bn allocated to compensate consumers and businesses for higher gas, electricity and vehicle fuel prices, prompting opposition politicians to accuse Macron of “raiding the till” to ensure his re-election.
Asked about the cost of his manifesto, Macron said the additional budget needed for his proposals in the five years to 2027 was € 50bn, on top of € 15bn of further annual tax cuts – half for business and half for consumers, who will benefit from the abolition of the € 138 annual fee for state broadcasting, equivalent to the BBC license fee in the UK.
But he stuck by the government’s targets for progressively cutting the public deficit and said the extra spending would be financed by the impact of economic growth and lower unemployment, reduction of social security fraud and more efficient government.