Europe News

French workers see need for longer week: Econ Min


French workers recognize the need to work more hours as the government looks to reform a 35-hour working week law, France's economy minister told CNBC on Saturday, adding that the country's economy is "back".

Former investment banker Emmanuel Macron has been pushing for measures that give firms more flexibility to increase working hours.

The country's 35-hour working week was introduced by the Socialist government in 2000 and has been a source of criticism from both the international community and corporate world.

Macron said reforming the law was key to helping a recovery in the French economy, the second biggest in the euro area after Germany.

"The perspective today, is not to kill the legislation about the 35 hours. The issue is to provide much more flexibility at the corporate level," Macron told CNBC in an interview at the Ambrosetti forum in Italy.

"So what we need is more flexibility on the ground, more flexibility at the corporate order to be precisely much more adapted to the inflows and outflows of the current economy."

Mike Green

Plans to reform the 35-hour working week law has put Macron and the Socialist government on a collision course with trade unions. But the economy minister said that the public backs the reform and recognizes the need to work longer hours.

"A poll yesterday...highlighted the fact that a large majority of people are completely aware of the fact that we need to increase working hours and are supportive of such a reform," Macron said.

'We are back'

France is still struggling with high unemployment, which is at around 10 percent, and gross domestic product (GDP) growth that slowed in the second quarter of the year.

The government has passed a number of reforms to get the country back on track and Macron said that it would take a "few months" to get results. Responding to a question about why France's economy has underperformed Germany's, Macron said the gap between the two countries has closed.

"It has changed. It is no more the case," Macron told CNBC.

"You are perfectly right, if you look at the last decade we lost a lot of market share in comparison with Germany. Why? Because we didn't deliver in terms of competitiveness. We had a constant increase of wages without increase in productivity, and we increased divergences between our two economies, so now we are on the recovery phase."

"We are proactive, we are reforming, we are back," he said.

Efforts to reform the labour market by President Francois Hollande and his government have also met with some opposition from within the Socialist party, with Macron saying the "aggressive recovery policy" has created divisions.

"And I do creates a lot of trouble especially in the Socialist party because we are changing the ideology, we are changing and modernizing this party and it's going through these reforms," he said.

Refugee crisis

A refugee crisis in Europe was also on the minds of politicians and diplomats at Ambrosetti as countries clashed on how to deal with the situation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hollande are pushing for quotas around how many refugees each European Union (EU) member state should accept. But the United Nation's high commissioner for refugees slammed the EU's "piecemeal" approach to the crisis, in a statement on Friday.

Macron praised Merkel and Hollande's push and said there was a need to educate the public on the reasons behind the influx of migrants into Europe, adding that integrating migrants into society will be crucial.

"These people didn't chose to leave their country, they were just killed in their country," Macron said.

"I think first pedagogy is key. Second, we need as well a better political and diplomatic organization...We need the proper answer from a political point of view in order to address this refugee issue, which means a good organization to hold them. Third, we have to integrate them progressively, that's the economic challenge because for sure they will be here for a long time."