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18 November 2014updated 27 Sep 2015 5:30am

French economy minister: The UK can’t succeed outside the EU

Emmanuel Macron warns that leaving the European Union would reduce Britain to the status of "Jersey or Guernsey". 

By George Eaton

Two and a half months ago, Emmanuel Macron was named France’s economy minister by François Hollande with a mission to dramatically reform his country’s scelerotic labour market. The 36-year-old former Rothschild banker, denounced by the Socialist Party’s left as a “copy-and-paste Tony Blair”, is in London this week to discuss his policy programme and the future of the EU with politicians and others.

After meeting his British equivalent Vince Cable and Labour’s Chuka Umunna yesterday (he meets George Osborne today), Macron delivered a briefing to journalists at the French ambassador’s residence in Kensington. Speaking in fluent English, without the aid of notes, he declared that it was now “impossible” to be a “classical socialist” since the need for fiscal consolidation meant the traditional option of ramping up public spending was no longer available. Instead, he said, the French government had embarked on an “ambitious” programme of structural reform, including new tax incentives for business, the liberalisation of the 35-hour week and the loosening of Sunday trading laws, to “increase opportunity” and “restore equality of chance”. “Normally we spend public money. We are doing exactly the opposite, not because we are in favour of political suicide but because we see it as a unique opportunity to do the job [of reform],” he said, vowing to “attack monopolies” in order to “restore attractiveness to risk takers”. 

But he emphasised that supply-side reform had to be coupled with demand-side investment in order to succeed. He urged Germany to take advantage of its healthy public finances and stimulate growth through higher spending. “I’m not in a situation to lecture the Germans but I think that it is good for Germany and for everyone else if they invest,” he said, calling for the use of €50bn from the European Stability Mechanism to fund new capital projects. He cited the experience of Portugal, where all “possible reforms” had been made but growth had failed to return, as a lesson in the limits of austerity. 

It was on the question of British EU membership, however, that Macron was most blunt. After he declared that France’s future lay in Europe, I asked him whether he was troubled by the possibility of UK withdrawal as a result of the referendum promised by David Cameron in 2017. He replied:

I think the UK is a sensible nation with rational people … Unless it wants to be Jersey or Guernsey I don’t see how the UK can succeed outside Europe.

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He also warned that Britain could not expect to retain access to the single market if it left the EU and told the French press corps: “There should be no scaremongering. Britain’s fate is definitely in Europe, nowhere else. The question is how they want to exercise their role in Europe and what kind of Europe they want.” 

At the close of the briefing, Macron, who discussed the importance of EU membership with Umunna, promised to try and “mobilise” Osborne for positive action on a European level. On that, as well as his domestic reform agenda, he will need much luck. 

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