French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended his Socialist government against a stream of criticism of its economic and business reforms during a visit to London.
“My government is pro-business!” he told British business leaders in English at the Guildhall in the heart of the British capital’s City financial district.
“A French prime minister in the City is an event. A Socialist French prime minister in the City is a revolution!” he quipped.
France’s President Francois Hollande was elected in part on a tough line towards the financial sector.
Hollande’s remark that the finance sector is “his enemy” and policies including a decision to impose 75 percent tax on top earners, had been met with derision across the Channel, where British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2002 said his country would “roll out the red carpet” for French executives.
Relations have improved since, and Valls met Cameron during his visit and business is the clear target of his charm offensive.
The French prime minister, who arrived in London late on Sunday, began his visit by meeting the French business community in London, home to more than 350,000 French nationals.
He admitted that France’s economic growth had been stuck in a “long breakdown” but said people should not “resign themselves” and encouraged British businesses to invest in France.
UK eurosceptics influential
Valls made similar comments after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September, and he is expected to take the message to the Netherlands and Luxembourg on October 20.
But his tour also comes amid criticism of France for not doing enough to reduce its budget deficit next year and suggestions made by an EU source to AFP that Brussels is set to reject his government’s fiscal plans.
However, Valls told BBC news “I’m convinced that the dialogue with Brussels and the European Commission will allow us to understand each other.”
While signalling France’s determination to carry out economic reforms to Cameron, Valls also urged his British counterpart to keep Britain in the EU.
Britain would “lose a lot” if it were to “turn its back” on Europe, Valls said, in response to rising euroscepticism in Britain.
Cameron is currently trying to appease the eurosceptic wing of his Conservative Party and fend off encroachment from the anti-EU UK Independence Party ahead of next year’s general election.
He has already promised to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 on Britain’s EU membership if his party wins the May 2015 vote.
“France wants Britain to stay in the European Union,” said Valls, calling also for joint action to reform Europe and make it “more intelligible to bring it closer to the people”.
“There is a choice that we can and should make together: reform Europe to put growth, competitiveness and jobs back at the heart of its priorities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Valls also sought to overcome “French-bashing”, a popular sport north of the Channel.
Andy Street, the director of upscale department store chain John Lewis, last week apologised after saying that “nothing works” in France, and that the country was “finished”.
In a bid to overturn this perception in an interview with BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme, Valls said his priority was growth, and that he would cut business costs, and allow shops in Paris and tourist areas to open on Sundays.
“I want to tell your audience, if our deficit is too high, we can reduce it, but at our speed while not losing sight of our priorities… indispensible for maintaining a good quality of life,” Valls said.