“We are open to business,” Macron of France told CEOs worldwide

PARIS – France’s president is taking on the role of salesman-in-chief for his strike-ravaged country.

Emmanuel Macron on Monday used the pomp of Versailles Palace to attract international business leaders, stressing that his reforms were attracting investors despite six weeks of lame protests and walkouts over his plans to overhaul the retirement system.

To convey the message that the eurozone’s second-largest economy is open for business, Macron’s government has announced a 2 billion-euro ($ 2.2 billion) deal for the French shipyard at Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast. It will build two cruise ships for the company MSC, which will represent about 2,400 jobs in three years. MSC has confirmed plans to build other ships in France for another 4 billion euros ($ 4.4 billion).

“The good news comes from nowhere. It comes because we are implementing reforms, because our country is moving, dynamic, “said Macron.” I know our heads are full of bad news and we are convinced that everything is going to explode. But that is not true. “

Macron made the remarks to workers at a plant at the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in the northern city of Dunkirk, one of his stops on a crazy day trying to persuade investors to choose France. Astrazeneca has announced 500 million in new investments over the next 5 years.

Later, in Versailles, Macron hosted 180 international business leaders, including top executives from Google, Netflix, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Samsung and General Electric. Many executives were stopping on their way to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Coca-Cola says it will invest 1 billion euros ($ 1.1 billion) over the next 5 years, including its Dunkirk plant in France.

Japanese automaker Toyota said last week it would build a new car model at its Valencia plant in northern France, representing 400 jobs and an investment of 100 million euros ($ 110 million).

Macron was elected in 2017 to a pro-European, pro-business platform and argued that France needed to be more globally competitive. He has begun tax cuts on business revenue and passed legislation to make it easier to hire and dismiss workers and make it harder to get unemployment benefits.

For such a policy, Macron has faced strikes and protests by French workers. The Yellow West economic justice movement began in November 2018 and included months of street protests over the cost of living and perceived social injustice.

In recent weeks, the president’s plan to revise the pension system has provoked major transport strikes. Macron said his plan to integrate more than 40 different retirement systems would be more equitable for all French workers. Those with special retirement contracts are opposed to the change, and various types of workers are opposed to any move to raise the retirement age from 62 to full.

Train traffic was close to normal on Monday and the Paris Metro was slightly disrupted after a major union called for a halt to the strike on Saturday.

The government says Labor The steps have begun to produce results and are creating more jobs. France’s unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in a decade this year, but at 8.6% it is still the highest in the European Union.

The World Economic Forum, in its 2019 Global Competitiveness Report – an assessment of the competitive landscape of 141 economies – rated France 15 out of 22 in 2017.

Sylvie Corbett, Associated Press

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