'France not protectionist'
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'France not protectionist'

Clara Gaymard dismissed suggestions that French authorities were engaging in economic nationalism.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 19:08 IST

The head of France's investment promotion agency, in an interview dismissed suggestions that French authorities were engaging in potentially dangerous economic nationalism.

"When I hear people say that we are protectionists, I say no," said Clara Gaymard, president of the French International Investment Agency. Instead, she insisted, the French lacked sufficient pride in their economy.

"We have to learn to be as proud of our companies as we are of our poets and painters," she said in a telephone interview. Gaymard defended France's planned merger of Suez SA and gas giant Gaz de France, a deal that would block a Suez takeover by Italy's Enel SA. The plans angered the Italian government, which has urged the European Union to take action.

Gaymard, who was speaking Tuesday evening, said a GDF-Suez deal had been on the table for two years, but that the French government's 80 per cent stake in GDF had prevented the deal from moving forward.

The government's willingness to decrease its stake to about 30 per cent sent a clear signal that France was eager to attract investors to its energy sector, Gaymard said, adding that foreign investors she had spoken to regarded the merger as "a very good industrial project."

France's top saleswoman also praised government steps to loosen French labour laws, saying: "It shows that even in France we are able to change the rules."

The government has forced through legislation to make it easier for companies to fire young workers, in the hope that flexibility will spur hiring of 18- to 25-year-olds- a group that suffers from particularly high unemployment. Critics have said the legislation would make young workers vulnerable. Nearly 400,000 people joined about 200 marches nationwide Tuesday against the plan, according to police figures.

Gaymard said public resistance was to be expected and "was not that strong." She called the new legislation the "beginning of a process."

First Published: Mar 10, 2006 15:19 IST