Why France is not the ‘sick man of Europe’

Despite French unemployment hitting a fresh record high in April, the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) insisted that France isn’t — and never has been — the “sick man of Europe.”

“There are a number of reforms that have been put on the books,” Angel Gurria told CNBC Tuesday, adding that the country’s socialist government was fully aware of what it needed to do to boost economic growth.

“Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron, has himself said they have to do more on the labor side — this is where both Italy and Spain…have gone further than France has, and they’re in relatively good shape, so it should be a good example.”

When asked whether France was still the “sick man of Europe” – as it has been dubbed by economists over recent years – Gurria said: “You said, ‘still the sick man of Europe’ which means that it was before, and it’s not.”

France’s economy was hit hard by the euro zone’s financial crisis and despite posting surprisingly strong growth data for the first quarter of 2015 – when the economy expanded 0.6 percent – unemployment in the country remains a serious concern.

The number of French citizens out of work hit a fresh record high of 3.53 million in April, according to labor ministry data published Monday. The ministry said the challenge in the coming months would be to see economic growth accompanied by more jobs.

French President, Francois Hollande, has consistently pledged to lower the unemployment rate, which stood at 10.6 percent in March, according to Eurostat. Indeed, he has even said he will not run for re-election in 2017 if he fails to create more jobs.

Speaking at the OECD Forum 2015 in Paris, Gurria stressed that high unemployment in the country was a legacy of the region’s financial crisis, and that the jobless rate had peaked in Europe. However, he added that more needed to be done in terms of structural reforms.

“Now it’s structural policy that you (France) need to focus on and that takes time,” he said. “It’s about education, innovation, flexibility in the labor and product markets. It’s about regulation and more competition and how you deal with your financial sector and taxation…These things all have one thing in common, which is that they take time to show results.”

The OECD was engaged in a very “fluid dialogue” with the French authorities and President Hollande and has discussed policy options with them, Gurria added.

“We are very active in this dialogue…But it’s up to each country to decide then how far they want to go,” he said.


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Craig Erlam

Craig Erlam

Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA at OANDA
Based in London, Craig Erlam joined OANDA in 2015 as a market analyst. With many years of experience as a financial market analyst and trader, he focuses on both fundamental and technical analysis while producing macroeconomic commentary. His views have been published in the Financial Times, Reuters, The Telegraph and the International Business Times, and he also appears as a regular guest commentator on the BBC, Bloomberg TV, FOX Business and SKY News. Craig holds a full membership to the Society of Technical Analysts and is recognised as a Certified Financial Technician by the International Federation of Technical Analysts.
Craig Erlam