French President Francois Hollande declared "a state of economic emergency" Monday and said it is time to redefine France's economic and social models. Hollande made the statement at an annual speech to business leaders as he laid out a series of economic reforms to reduce the county’s stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Currently, unemployment in the eurozone's second-largest economy stands at around 10 percent, or 3.57 million people. It was the "only issue which ranks above security for the French people," the president said, according to Agence France Presse.
The president did not seek any new emergency powers but pledged to reduce unemployment through a 2 billion euro ($2.18 billion) government plan which will create 500,000 vocational training schemes, additional subsidies for small companies and measures to boost apprenticeships, the Financial Times reported.
With a jobless rate of more than 10 percent of the workforce, France is above EU’s average of 9.8 percent. Since 2012, when Hollande came to power, more than 600,000 people have joined the ranks of the unemployed, while joblessness decreased in most other large European economies.
Hollande said Monday that France needed to "increase the pace of reforms" and innovation was key to getting people back to work.
While Hollande stressed that the government would not "put into question" the 35-hour work week — favored by French labor unions — he also emphasized the urgency of updating France's labor-friendly business model in a fast-moving, increasingly globalised economy.
With 15 months left before the presidential elections, the sense of urgency could be political for the Socialist president, the Financial Times noted. Hollande had tied his decision to run for a second mandate on his ability to curb unemployment.