The French economic landscape darkened today despite a solemn pledge by President François Hollande to restore dynamism and job creation by the end of the year.
Official figures showed that France had exceeded its EU deficit target for last year and that overall state debt had reached a new high.
The statistics were published the day after President Hollande, pictured, made a live “crisis” pledge on television that his policies would restore growth and halt the relentless rise in unemployment by the beginning of 2014.
In a combative but technocratic performance in a 75-minute TV interview, Mr Hollande promised to slash the bureaucracy of the French state, to cut spending and to freeze most taxes. However, in an attempt to head off growing anger on the Left, he resurrected in a complex new form his plan for a 75 per cent on income over €1m.
President Hollande’s original campaign pledge for a two-year super-tax on the super-rich has been rejected as unconstitutional by two state watchdogs. Instead, companies will be ordered to pay – for two years only – a 75 per cent penalty on all salaries over €1m. The aim, Mr Hollande said, was to discourage firms from paying indecently high salaries to a privileged minority while the great mass of the French middle and working classes are suffering.
Mr Hollande’s TV interview – watched by eight million people – was an attempt to respond to collapsing poll ratings and accusations by both Right and Left that he has lacked dynamism and leadership in his 10 months in the Elysée Palace.
On France 2 television, Mr Hollande insisted that his “tool-box” of policies, including a job-creation scheme for the young and a union-employers deal to make French labour law more flexible, would begin to produce results by the end of the year. “I am not waiting for growth,” he said. “I am creating it.”
Reaction to his performance was muted. Even sympathisers said he had failed to give an increasingly anxious nation a sense of purpose and direction.