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French bosses fear the vague economic plans of the far right

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La Defense, the business district of the French capital, seen behind the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (JOEL SAGET)

French business leaders have been thrown into new uncertainty by early elections called by President Emmanuel Macron, which risk strengthening the far right.

Federations are treading lightly on their public comments, aware that they could be sitting across the table from National Rally (RN) ministers if the party makes a major breakthrough in the June 30 and July 7 elections .

Local business group U2P would “respect the people’s choice, but the RN must say more precisely what it proposes on issues with a fiscal, social and economic impact on small businesses,” chief Michel Picon told AFP.

In the last presidential election in 2022, the group had warned that RN chief Marine Le Pen’s promises would have “bad consequences for business,” he recalled.

At stake are issues such as the return to the official retirement age of 60 – raised to 64 last year during a hugely unpopular Macron reform – and an even tougher crackdown on immigration.

“What does this mean for the people who work for us today?” Picon asked.

“We are business people who do not get involved in politics,” says Thierry Cotillard, head of the Mousquetaires/Intermarche supermarket chain.

But “whoever the politicians are, we will fiercely defend our positions,” he warned.

– ‘Stick out your neck’ –

Centrist Macron’s term in office was marked by reforms aimed at making life easier for companies and attracting foreign investment on a large scale.

In contrast, “we know nothing” about the RN’s plans, the head of the French subsidiary of a major European industrial company said on condition of anonymity.

“We’ve just seen the beginning of a reindustrialization that’s been going on for a decade, with supply-side policies paying off. Will it all last?” he asked.

Macron’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday urged the business community to “stick their necks out” against the far right.

Groups including major business federation MEDEF must “state clearly what they think about the economic programs of the different parties” and warn about “the costs of Marine Le Pen’s Marxist plans,” he added.

Without naming any party, MEDEF told AFP in a statement that “a new campaign begins in which we do not share certain political visions, which are incompatible with business competitiveness and prosperity for our country and our fellow citizens.”

The CPME small business group called for continued supply-side policies, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and welfare state reforms.

It also warned about France’s staggering three-trillion-euro debt pile, which ratings agency Moody’s said on Monday was at risk of a rating downgrade due to the “potential political instability” of the upcoming elections.

“Anyone who implements costly reforms without taking this element into account would expose France to a major risk,” the CPME said.

The head of a firm on France’s heavyweight CAC 40 stock index, also on condition of anonymity, said there was no need to panic as RN’s victory was “not a foregone conclusion”.

Even if they did, they said, “Everyone wants to turn things upside down, but once you are in power, the fact that you are responsible for things will make you responsible.”

– ‘Low-carbon electricity essential’ –

One sector with particular fears of a far-right victory is renewable energy, which has been waiting for months for a government roadmap stretching to 2035 and including such things as locations for huge offshore wind farms.

“What is going on is serious,” says Jules Nyssen, chairman of the Renewable Energies Union (SER).

“We are in a state of total instability, just when we need legal guarantees and clarity,” he added, saying that “it will cost us a lot.”

“We have a clear roadmap that we need to eliminate CO2 emissions,” said Nicolas de Warren, president of the UNIDEN association of major industrial energy users.

“What is essential for us is access to low-carbon electricity at competitive prices, whether nuclear or renewable.”

In 2022, Le Pen promised a fleet of around 20 new nuclear reactors – although her 2031 timetable for delivering half of those was seen as unrealistic.

But she is also a committed opponent of wind energy, vowing a moratorium on new construction and the gradual dismantling of existing parks – plans that are incompatible with France’s climate commitments.

“The laws of economics and energy will overtake the RN when it comes to power,” said an electricity supplier on condition of anonymity.

“We need more cheap energy. Building nuclear power takes ten to fifteen years. What do we do while we wait? And how can we attract battery factories if we don’t want electric cars anymore?” he added, citing another Le Pen bugbear.

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