Emmanuel Macron's pledge comes as hundreds of business leaders attended the Choose France event on Monday.
Building factories to boost job creation and make France more independent — that’s President Emmanuel Macron’s ambition for the French economy.
It's a big challenge, with France reeling from protracted protests over controversial pension reforms and rising food and energy prices amid the Ukraine war.
More than 200 international business leaders gathered on Monday at the Choose France event staged at the Palace of Versailles to promote foreign investment.
Eminent business leaders taking part ranged from The Walt Disney Company’s Robert Iger to Lakshmi Mittal of Arcelor Mittal, a steel manufacturer.
Elon Musk was a surprise visitor to Monday's event, meeting first with Macron to discuss the “significant progress in the electric vehicle and energy sectors,” as well as digital regulation, the president tweeted.
France has tried to vaunt its attractiveness to businesses and plans to prove it with the announcement of 13 billion euros in investments via 28 initiatives, several of them announced recently.
This follows a series of incentives announced by Macron last week to support innovative industries and transition towards greener technology. They include tax credits in fields like battery production, electric cars, hydrogen and wind power, as well as accelerating authorisation for industrial projects.
“France is changing, is getting adapted to the course of the world and I believe that we're following the right path, which is to reindustrialise the country, to be more sovereign and more respectful of the climate and biodiversity," Macron said on Friday during a visit to Dunkirk, in northern France.
Macron’s move comes after months of protests against his decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The unpopularity of the reform has weakened his government at parliament and hampered his economic strategy.
Unions have called for a new round of nationwide demonstrations on 6 June. Meanwhile, opponents keep staging small protests, with people loudly banging pots and pans in places where Macron and government members are scheduled to travel.
Credit rating agency Fitch last month downgraded France’s sovereign credit rating, citing the protest movement. “Political deadlock and (sometimes violent) social movements pose a risk to Macron’s reform agenda,” the agency wrote.
In Dunkirk on Friday, Macron made time for selfies with workers from several local factories who attended his speech at Aluminium Dunkerque, one of the biggest aluminium production sites in Europe.
No one asked him about the retirement age, but unlike previous visits across French regions, he didn't walk through city streets to meet with the crowd.
A heavy police presence was deployed to keep potential protesters away.
Macron announced two major investments, both in the battery sector: one worth 5.2 billion euros ($5.7 billion) by Taiwanese group Prologium, the other one via a joint venture of China’s XTC with French energy giant Orano worth 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion).
They are expected to create 3,000 and 1,700 jobs in the area respectively by 2030.
He seized on the occasion to present the pension reform as part of a “package” that has already produced “results”. “If we want to be more competitive, we must work a little longer,” he said.
Since taking office in 2017, Macron has cut business taxes. He has made it easier to hire and fire workers and more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits, amid other pro-business policies.
Macron said 300 new factories had been created since 2017 — two thirds in the past two years — while 600 had been shut down in the previous decade. The COVID-19 crisis and Ukraine war have shown that domestic industrial production is needed to strengthen the country's sovereignty, he stressed.
For a fourth consecutive year, France was the European country that had attracted the greatest number of foreign investments, Macron said, citing a survey by EY last week.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Friday its statistics showed France’s unemployment rate in March reached its lowest level since 2001, at 6.9% — down from about 10% when Macron was elected.
Still, the proportion of jobless people in France is higher than the average in the European Union, which is stable at 6%.