French officials say programme will be Europe’s largest relative to GDP, likely to create around 160,000 jobs by 2021.
The French government has detailed its 100 billion euro ($118bn) stimulus plan to erase the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis over two years, lining up billions of euros in public investments, subsidies and tax cuts.
The plan – dubbed “France Relaunch” – earmarks, in particular, 35 billion euros ($41bn) for making the euro zone’s second-biggest economy more competitive, 30 billion euros ($35bn) for more environmentally friendly energy schemes and 25 billion euros ($30bn) for supporting jobs, officials told the Reuters news agency ahead of its official presentation late on Thursday.
With the plan equating to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), France is ploughing more public cash into its economy than any other big European country as a percentage of GDP, one of the officials said.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said he hoped the economic recovery plan would create 160,000 jobs by 2021.
Speaking on RTL radio, he also said the plan aimed to erase the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis over two years as well as helping to avert widespread job losses.
Risky bet It is a high-stakes political move for President Emmanuel Macron. His government is banking on the plan to return the economy to pre-crisis levels of activity by 2022 after suffering this year what the finance ministry expects to be its worst post-war recession with a contraction of 11 percent, among the biggest slumps in Europe.
The initial rebound following the end of a nationwide lockdown in May appears to be tapering off. Furlough measures have helped contain unemployment for now, but it could rise sharply in the coming months.
Looming over the grim outlook are presidential elections in April 2022, leaving Macron no time for another shot at a defining policy transformation before he faces voters.
The economic recovery plan also aims to put Macron’s pro-business push back on track with already-flagged cuts in business taxes worth 10 billion euros ($12bn) annually and fresh public funds to boost France’s industrial, construction and transport sectors.
Officials said the transport sector would get 11 billion euros ($13bn) with 4.7 billion euros ($5.5bn) targeting the rail network in particular while energy-efficient building renovations would be spurred with four billion euros ($4.7bn) for public buildings and two billion euros ($2.4bn) for homes.
The hydrogen industry, increasingly seen as a key building block in the transition away from fossil fuels, would get two billion euros ($2.4bn) over the two years of the stimulus plan.
Another one billion euros ($1.2bn) would be offered in direct aid for industrial projects, including 600 million euros ($709m) to help firms relocate overseas plants back to France.
‘Very French’ The government estimates that France Relaunch will return economic output to 2019 levels in 2022, according to officials at the prime minister’s office, while also having a lasting impact that will raise potential growth by one percentage point 10 years from now.
“It’s a wise mix of short-term boosts to demand via job protection and longer-term supply via investment,” Allianz’s chief economist Ludovic Subran told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media). “But it’s very French in the way it aims to resolve everything in one plan. There are no contingencies for supporting businesses and households in response to a changing pandemic.”
Governments across Europe are planning additional stimulus as the coronavirus continues to hammer economies. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling bloc on Tuesday backed plans allowing for extraordinary deficit spending next year.
But many countries have already stretched their finances. In France’s case, emergency spending has pushed the debt burden to around 120 percent of economic output – a level the central bank has warned the government should not exceed.
Some 80 billion euros of the overall cost of the French plan will weigh directly on the budget deficit, with EU subsidies offsetting 40 billion euros ($47bn), officials said.
Trial opens in Paris for 14 suspects accused of helping gunmen attack French magazine and Jewish supermarket in 2015.
Fourteen people have gone on trial in Paris on charges of assisting the gunmen who attacked the weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket five years ago, leaving 17 people dead.
Only 11 of the suspected accomplices appeared in the packed courtroom on Wednesday to face charges of conspiracy in a terrorist act or association with a terror group – the other three fled to territory controlled by ISIL (ISIS) in Syria or Iraq before the January 2015 attacks on the publication’s offices and the supermarket in the French capital.
The three attackers were shot dead by police in separate stand-offs.
Reporting from Paris, Noble Reporters Media learnt the trial will be “very closely watched” in France until it wraps up in November.
“The attacks shocked so many people, prompting an enormous outpouring of grief,” she added.
Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, was targeted after publishing derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were shot dead when French brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed its offices in eastern Paris on January 7, 2015. The attackers also killed a police officer as they left the scene.
A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, who had become close to Cherif Kouachi while they were in prison, killed a 27-year-old police officer, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, during a traffic check in Montrouge, outside Paris.
Then on January 9, Coulibaly killed four men during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket.
The perpetrators of the attacks had links with al-Qaeda and ISIL. Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were killed when officers carried out a nearly simultaneous operation at a printing shop where they were holed up in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.
Caricatures reprinted Over the next two-and-a-half months, the court will hear from some 150 experts and witnesses.
The suspected accomplices face charges including financing terrorism, membership in a terrorist organisation and supplying weapons to the attackers.
The defendants tried in absentia include Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s partner at the time of the attacks, and brothers Mohamed and Mehdi Belhoucine.
As the court proceedings got under way, Charlie Hebdo reprinted in its Wednesday issue the hugely controversial caricatures that stirred outrage in the Muslim world when they were first published nearly a decade before the attacks. Physical depictions of the prophet are forbidden in Islam and deeply offensive to Muslims.
“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who was wounded in the attack, wrote in an editorial published on Wednesday.
The publication of the cartoons drew fresh condemnation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry, which said the decision to print them again was “deeply offensive”.
But French President Emmanuel Macron defended the “freedom to blaspheme” and paid tribute to the victims of the attack.
“A president of France should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist or editorial staff because there is freedom of the press which is rightly cherished,” he said on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote in a Twitter post: “Always Charlie”.
The 2015 attacks prompted a rally of solidarity in Paris at the time, drawing more than four million people, many holding signs with the slogan “I Am Charlie.”
Dozens of world leaders and statespeople also linked arms in a march under high security to pay tributes to the victims of the attacks.
The move comes a day before 13 men and one woman accused of assisting the 2015 attackers of the paper go on trial.
The French satirical paper whose Paris offices were attacked in 2015 is reprinting the caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that the gunmen who opened fire on its editorial staff cited as their motivation.
The move was announced on Tuesday, a day before 13 men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics go on trial on charges of terrorism on Wednesday.
In an editorial this week accompanying the caricatures, the paper said the drawings “belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten nor erased”.
The January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and, two days later, a kosher supermarket, touched off a wave of killings claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group across Europe.
Seventeen people died in the attacks – 12 of them at the editorial offices – along with all three attackers.
The attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, claimed their attack on the newspaper in the name of al-Qaeda. As they left the scene at Charlie Hebdo, they killed a wounded policeman and drove away.
Two days later, a prison acquaintance of theirs stormed a kosher supermarket on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, claiming allegiance to ISIL. Four hostages were killed during the attack.
The Kouachi brothers had by then holed up in a printing office with another hostage. All three attackers died in near-simultaneous police raids.
The supermarket attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, also killed a young policewoman.
Blasphemy The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in 2006 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests by Muslims who believe depicting the Prophet is blasphemy.
Charlie Hebdo, infamous for its irreverence, regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths and republished them soon afterwards.
The paper’s Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.
Laurent Sourisseau, the paper’s director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week’s edition.
“Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular,” wrote Sourisseau, also known as Riss.