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Spectre of inflation threatens Macron’s economic gains as election looms – Metro US

Spectre of inflation threatens Macron’s economic gains as election looms

French President Macron holds election rally, in Nanterre
French President Macron holds election rally, in Nanterre

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron risks seeing high inflation eroding economic gains achieved during his presidency as he seeks a second term.

Macron was elected in 2017 on promises to reboot the euro zone’s second-biggest economy with a shock of pro-business reforms by cutting taxes, easing labour laws and aggressively promoting France to foreign investors.

His early reforms prompted violent anti-government “Yellow Vest” protests in late 2018, but Macron can point to a series of indicators as evidence his reform drive is paying dividends.

Opinion polls show Macron is likely to win the first round of the election on Sunday. But far-right leader Marine Le Pen is staging a comeback in the polls and the race is tightening between the two frontrunners for the April 24 run-off.

ECONOMIC OUTPUT

During his presidency, France’s economy outperformed other big European countries as well as the broader euro zone, bouncing back from the worst of the COVID crisis with the strongest growth in more than five decades.

For a related graphic on French growth vs European peers over last five years, click https://tmsnrt.rs/3NBsPjd

UNEMPLOYMENT

Strong growth along with labour reforms to make hiring and firing easier have helped push France’s stubbornly high unemployment to the lowest level since the start of the 2008 global financial crisis.

More remarkably, youth unemployment – a bane of Macron’s predecessors for decades – has come down even faster as his government ramped up apprenticeship programmes and incentives to hire young people.

For a related graphic on Unemployment in France, click https://tmsnrt.rs/36Dvokh

INFLATION

Record high inflation across the euro zone has left Macron’s government increasingly at pains to convince voters that its cocktail of growth, tax cuts and targeted payouts to people on low incomes is translating into real purchasing power gains.

To keep those gains from evaporating, France put together a more than 25 billion euro ($27.6 billion) package of measures to soften the blow of an energy price-fuelled inflation spike.

For a related graphic, click https://tmsnrt.rs/3uBcjao

While costly caps on gas and power price increases have kept French inflation lower than in most other euro zone countries, Macron’s rivals are capitalising on voters’ frustration with dwindling purchasing power.

COMPANY REGISTRATIONS

The inflation surge is tarnishing an economic record that otherwise suggests France has become more open to business during Macron’s presidency.

Foreign direct investment has poured in and employers are shedding their fear of coveted long-term labour contracts, knowing they can more easily get rid of workers if necessary.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are setting up new companies faster than ever in France, although a large share is of self-employed delivery workers setting up to ride the online shopping boom.

For a related graphic on New company registrations in France, click https://tmsnrt.rs/3gg4zUA

NATIONAL DEBT

The public finances represent a blemish on Macron’s economic record.

Promising to stabilise the economy at the start of the pandemic “whatever it costs”, Macron ran a record budget deficits in 2020 of 8.9% of economic output, leaving the country saddled with debts the central bank says will take a decade to bring back to pre-COVID levels.

For a related graphic on France’s national debt as percent of GDP, click https://tmsnrt.rs/3wPk4w8

COMPETITION

Macron’s progress in making France more business friendly has so far not translated into gains in competitiveness if the trade balance is anything to go by.

The trade deficit has swelled to record levels partly due to more expensive energy imports but also because French firms are still struggling to win foreign market share.

For a related graphic on France’s national debt as percent of GDP, click https://tmsnrt.rs/3wPk4w8

($1 = 0.9045 euros)

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Richard Lough and Nick Macfie)

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