France ‘must continue to reform’, says prime minister

Manuel VallsFrench Prime Minister Manuel Valls promised on Saturday there would be “no let-up” in the government’s reform agenda and reiterated a pledge to bring down stubbornly high unemployment.

Addressing a Socialist Party congress in the western city of Poitiers, Valls said: “We must continue to reform. There will be no let-up… We will succeed!”

France has been accused of dragging its heels on the kind of structural reforms undertaken by other ailing eurozone economies.

The continuing rise in unemployment — a year and a half after an end-2013 deadline President Francois Hollande set himself to make it taper off — is seen as the biggest blight on the government’s copy so far.

In April, the number of jobless rose to a new record high of 3.53 million, 600,000 more than when Hollande took office three years ago.

The crusading Valls, whom polls show as being the preferred candidate of the French to represent the Socialists in the next presidential election in 2017, assured the government would turn the corner on jobs.

“It’s the president’s commitment. And we will stick to it,” he promised.

The usually pro-business premier took employers to task over the situation, suggesting they were failing to uphold their end of a landmark tax cuts-for-jobs pact.

“We expect something better from employers’ representatives. We expect them to keep their commitments,” he remonstrated.

He also announced plans to change the tax collection system to have income tax deducted at source instead of leaving it to residents to file their own tax returns.

An OpinionWay poll published this week show Valls the runaway favourite of both Socialist supporters and the wider public to represent his party in the 2017 vote.

The former interior minister was credited with 25 percent support, ahead of 12 percent for former party leader Martine Aubry, eight percent for maverick former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, and only seven percent for Hollande.

In his speech to around 3,000 party faithful Valls praised Hollande as a man of “courage” and said the president had his “unswerving loyalty”.

In France, a sitting president who seeks a second term is rarely opposed from within his own camp.

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