French business leaders see threat to economy from Macron opponents

Both France’s far-right National Rally party and its rival left-wing coalition New Popular Front promise to save the country from financial ruin.

But French administrators responded coolly on Thursday to the rival parties’ competing economic plans. They warned that both could endanger the French economy and alienate France from the European Union.

With less than two weeks to go before crucial parliamentary elections, members of MEDEF, France’s main employers’ organisation, held an “audition” for candidates from the main political parties vying to take over from President Emmanuel Macron, whose government has been severely weakened after his party was trounced by the far-right in European Parliament elections.

Macron called for early parliamentary elections, betting voters would reject the extremes and embrace his centrist Renaissance party. The first round of voting is scheduled for June 30 and the final round for July 7.

On Thursday, business leaders questioned National Assembly candidate Jordan Bardella in a packed concert hall in Paris about how he would finance a law and order platform, and cheered when far-left candidates called for a wealth tax on billionaires. They applauded the Minister of Finance, Bruno Le Maire, who is in fact campaigning for Mr. Macron, and whose pro-business policies are seen as a way to smooth economic growth.

MEDEF President Patrick Martin set the tone, taking the stage at the start of the event with the heads of other business groups to criticize what he said were unrealistic, free-spending populist promises.

The buzz was palpable when Mr. Bardella, the fire-breathing protégé of Rassemblement National leader Marine Le Pen and, at 28, the new face of the rising right, first appeared in public with the leader of France’s main conservative party, Eric Ciotti. Last week, Mr. Ciotti broke a political taboo by forming an alliance with the nationalist right. As the two laid out their case that the French economy would be better off if they took power, the buzz faded to a murmur.

Executives in the audience took turns peppering Mr. Bardella with questions about his party’s positions on economic policy, immigration and international investment. The young politician, a magnetic speaker who has taken care to present a polished image in a tailored suit and dark ties, ticked off a list of priorities should he find himself in the once unthinkable role of Prime Minister of France, next to Mr Macron.

These include cutting energy, gas and electricity taxes for French households, cutting income taxes for citizens under 30 and encouraging companies to increase salaries by 10 percent. Immigrants with work papers who pay taxes would be allowed to stay, he said, but would have to leave France if they were unemployed for six months after their last job. He added that Rassemblement National would finance more social spending for native French people by no longer allowing illegal immigrants to rely on the French healthcare system.

“I understand that we need to give people economic security,” Mr Bardella told the crowd. “Our ambition is to restore order in the country, in the streets and in French finances.”

At the other end of the spectrum was the platform of the New Popular Front. Investors are concerned that the coalition, which also includes the Socialist, Green and Communist parties, could throw financial caution to the winds with promises to raise the minimum wage, lower the retirement age to 60 and freeze prices for basic necessities to help households help those affected by inflation. .

Business leaders booed when Eric Coquerel, a representative of the left-wing La France Insoumise party, pointed at some in the audience as he criticized companies for caring more about profit margins than people. “We want billionaires to pay more taxes,” he said.

The Institute Montaigne, A Paris think tank said in a report Thursday that the campaign platforms of the three main political parties would each cost more than 10 billion euros ($10.71 billion) a year. The platform of the New Popular Front coalition would cost almost 30 billion euros, more than any other platform.

But French business does not necessarily influence the opinion of people on the street: the latest political poll, published Thursday by the IFOP research agency, showed that the Rassemblement National would get 34 percent of the parliamentary vote, while the Popular Front would get 29 percent. Macron’s Together bloc would get 22 percent, not enough to avoid a stalemate.

The crowd responded kindly to Mr Le Maire, who addressed some of the audience in familiar tones and warned again that France would descend into chaos if either the far right or the far left were to run the country.

The European Union hit France with sanctions on Wednesday for violating rules requiring countries to maintain strict budget discipline. But business leaders have not forgotten that Mr Le Maire oversaw a program to support employers and workers during the pandemic through a €300 billion spending spree, which is one of the main causes of the current excessive deficit and France’s debt burden.

“Without that program, so many companies would have gone bankrupt and the workers would have been destitute,” said Katy Jeandidier, who runs Vivre Adom, a small company that provides home care for the elderly. “They protected us, and now we want to keep things stable with this election.”

But Michel Picon, president of U2P, the French trade association for local businesses, acknowledged that the Rassemblement National had made major gains amid a growing sense of insecurity in towns and villages across the country.

He said small business owners in these places felt a growing threat from a sharp rise in petty crime. Voters seemed to link it to illegal immigration, which Mr. Picon said also caused a backlash against legal immigrants working in France — and on whom many companies depend for their labor.

“We need more order in this country,” he said. “But we also need to protect immigrants who are working and have nothing to do with these actions.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button