French PM vows to boost economy amid impact of Ukraine war

PARIS (AP) — French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne vowed Wednesday to boost jobs, cut taxes, support purchasing power, tackle climate issues and help France better face the consequences of the war in Ukraine — including by nationalizing electricity giant EDF.

Borne laid out her main priorities in her first major speech to the National Assembly after parliamentary elections last month cost French President Emmanuel Macron’s government its majority.

She said the government plans to nationalize French electricity giant EDF — one of the world’s biggest electricity producers — amid an energy crisis aggravated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The French state now holds an 84% stake in the company. Its share price jumped on the news.

EDF manages France’s sizable fleet of nuclear reactors, which are facing a raft of technical and other problems. New-generation reactors are years behind schedule and billions over budget.

“The war in Ukraine, at Europe’s doors, reminds us how peace is fragile. Energy prices are rising and we must keep protecting the French. The (COVID-19) pandemic is still there and our vigilance must remain total,” Borne said.

The announcement on EDF came as she detailed the government’s agenda for coming years in front of very vocal lawmakers from the left and from the right, who together outnumber members of the president’s centrist alliance in the National Assembly.

“The French have elected an Assembly without a straight majority. They invite us to have new practices and an intensive dialogue to actively look for compromises,” Borne said.

Macron’s camp suffered big losses in the parliamentary elections. His alliance, Together!, won the most seats in the Assembly but fell 44 seats short of a majority as voters opted for the leftist coalition or the far right.

Having the largest group of lawmakers, Macron’s government still has the ability to rule, but only by bargaining with opposition legislators. To prevent deadlock, Borne promised to negotiate on a case-by-case basis on future bills.

She called on lawmakers and the government to “build together,” saying she is ready to “hear proposals” from opposition members and in some cases, accept their amendments — a very unusual method in France.

“Disorder and instability are not options,” she said. “We may not agree on all the solutions, but we are all aware of the urgent need to act.”

A bill to be presented at a Cabinet meeting Thursday is to focus on helping struggling households amid rising energy and food prices. It is to include measures worth 25 billion euros ($25.5 billion), including increasing pensions and some welfare payments by 4%.

Borne said gas and electricity prices will remained capped as they are now. She confirmed that civil servants will see their salaries increased by 3.5%. In addition, rent increases will be capped.

Borne also addressed key economic changes promised by Macron as he successfully ran for reelection in April.

Full employment “is not an illusion,” she said. It is “within our reach.”

France’s unemployment rate recently decreased to 7,3%, from more than 10% when Macron came into power in 2017.

Stressing that the French are retiring earlier that “all our European neighbors,” she vowed to implement pension changes meant to make the French “gradually work longer,” prompting boos both from the left and from the far-right. Macron promised to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65 and bring the minimum pension to 1,100 euros ($1120).

Borne also urged lawmakers to take action on climate-related issues and vowed to reach the goal set by France and the European Union to slash greenhouse gases by at least 55% in 2030 compared with 1990.

“We want to be, we will be, the first great nation to exit from fossil energies,” she promised.

Borne also had strong words to promote gender equality; she is the second woman ever named to the post of prime minister.

The leftist coalition, known as Nupes, formally requested a no-confidence motion to symbolically mark its opposition to the government.

The motion has very little chance of passing since it is highly unlikely to get approval from more than half of all lawmakers. The major opposition group, the far-right National Rally, as well as The Republicans, have already said their representatives would abstain.

The no-confidence vote is to be organized within a week, but no earlier than Friday afternoon.

On Monday, Macron reshuffled his Cabinet and called on his new government to “stand strong” amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and “transform” the heavily indebted French economy.

Three out of Macron’s 15 ministers failed to keep their seats in last month’s elections and were replaced.

In addition, Damien Abad, who was minister of policies for the disabled and is under investigation for alleged rape and sexual misconduct, was also replaced. Abad firmly denies the allegations.

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Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

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