France Bankruptcy Comment, Labor Protests Put Sapin in Hot Seat

French Labor Minister Michel Sapin is finding himself in the hot seat.

Unions representing workers at companies including Arcelor Mittal, Credit Agricole SA, Faurecia SA, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Sanofi, Valeo SA and several others are gathering in front of his ministry this afternoon to protest thousands of job cuts across France, leaving the country with jobless claims at the highest in 15 years.

The demonstrations come just days after Sapin’s remarks in a radio interview on Jan. 27 that France was “totally bankrupt” set off a storm. Asked on Radio J about Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon's comment in September 2007 that France was a “bankrupt state,” Sapin said, “But it’s a totally bankrupt state,” adding “that’s the reason we have to put deficit-reductions programs in place.” The minister immediately took back the statement, saying he was being “ironic.”

“Michel Sapin was referring to something Francois Fillon said in 2007,” Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said on France Info radio yesterday. “What he meant was that the state’s financial situation was worrying in 2007, it’s more worrying now because we’ve accumulated 600 billion euros more in debt.

“But the term isn’t appropriate. France isn’t a country that’s had to shut public services. We’re borrowing today on the markets at 2.2 percent, 60 basis points more than Germany, that’s down from 200 basis points. France is a country that is completely solvent.”

‘Massive Firing’

Sapin said he wanted to point out that “there’s a social and economic emergency,” requiring the government to act quickly to boost growth and address an unemployment rate that’s at 10.3 percent. France’s jobless claims rose to 3.13 million in November, the nation’s employment body’s figures show.

“Not a week passes when there isn’t a massive firing by a company that is making enormous profits,” the unions protesting today said in a statement.

Demanding that all firings be blocked, they called on President Francois Hollande to keep his campaign promise to stop job cuts, reminding him that their support helped him win the presidency.

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