AFP - France posted yesterday an acceleration in economic growth at the start of 2016, a rare dose of good news for President Francois Hollande as he confronts fierce opposition to planned job market reforms just a year ahead of elections.
Hollande’s hopes for a signature achievement on the economic front, notably through reforms that would make it easier for employers to lay off workers, have taken a hit from huge protests, including a demonstration that disintegrated into violent clashes Thursday night in the streets of Paris. The Socialist Party government will likely take some heart, however, from official data showing France’s gross domestic product grew by 0.5 percent in the first quarter of this year.
The expansion, reported in an initial estimate by the national statistics office, Insee, beat expectations of 0.4 percent growth and came on top of upbeat employment figures earlier this week showing the biggest drop in jobless numbers in nearly 16 years. eurozone’s second-biggest economy grew by 0.3 percent, a sign that France may be in a gentle recovery. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said the figures showed the government’s efforts to kickstart the French economy were working. “Our action is bearing fruit. We will go on with it, determinedly, in the coming months,” he said. “It is solid growth that’s underway.” Household consumer spending, a traditional growth driver in France, helped boost the economy between January and March, rising by 1.2 percent -- the sharpest increase since the end of 2004.
Consumer spending had dropped in the previous quarter, which was overshadowed by the November 13 Paris terror attacks on bars, restaurants, concert and sports venues that left 130 people dead. With the clock ticking down on his term in office, France’s deeply unpopular Socialist president has staked his presidency on a pledge to rein in stubbornlyhigh unemployment, which stood at 10.3 percent in the last quarter of 2015.
The labour ministry said this week that the ranks of the unemployed fell 1.7 percent in March to 3.5 million job seekers. But the government faces fierce opposition to its centrepiece labour market reforms.