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Business

France's economy minister urges reforms

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron is urging deeper economic liberalization and reforms, saying red tape must be cut to overcome stagnation. He argued over-regulation of labor markets was stifling job creation.

France has been focused on little other than security concerns recently, but Macron said in Paris on Wednesday that it was time for the nominally Socialist government to refocus on economic reforms in order to reinvigorate the country's stagnant economy.

France was among the few EU countries that didn't see jobless rates fall last year, he pointed out.

"We should have moved with greater speed, force and daring," he told "Le Monde" newspaper in an interview.

Macron's perspective is controversial in France, where job security is strongly valued and protected by legislation. As a former investment banker, the minister was a controversial choice for an important ministerial post.

Wakeup call

Macron's comments appeared to be intended as a warning to the centrist Socialist party to move forward on economy-invigorating reforms ahead of elections in 2017. The far-right National Front party has gained a lot of ground recently in polls, due to terrorism fears as well as frustration with high unemployment.

"We have to rise to the challenge... now is the moment for major reform," Macron said.

The French minister has also been a vocal supporter of a

reinvigoration of the eurozone

and deepening of the institutions of European convergence.

Barriers to new businesses

Macron was the sponsor of a

new pro-competition law

last year that was dubbed the "Loi Macron," which had as one effect the liberalization of the country's bus transport sector. Its passage immediately prompted a mushrooming of low-price alternatives to the country's railway network.

Encouraged by this demonstration of the efficacy of cutting barriers to competition, Macron said much more should be done to open up other sectors as well - sectors now closed to people who didn't have specific diplomas or hard-to-get qualifications. In quite a number of cases, Macron argued, those regulatory barriers weren''t really justified.

The minister proposed cutting red tape, or regulatory overhead, to allow people to more easily set up their own businesses. He cited the "car-sharing" taxi service Uber, which allows ordinary car owners to become taxi drivers using their own cars. Uber has come up against legal obstacles in France and is opposed by established taxi drivers fighting to retain their oligopolistic market privileges.

High unemployment amongst young people in France is, in Macron's view, a result of an over-regulated labor market, and Uber can be viewed as a constructive example showing that "for many young people, it is easier nowadays to find a client than an employer."

nz/hg (dpa, Reuters)

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