French bosses take to streets for week of protests

Protesters feel excessive taxes, red tape are strangling economic activity
||Last Updated: 12/02/2014

PARIS (Reuters) -— Thousands of French company chiefs took the streets on Monday in a rare protest against what they see as excessive taxes and red tape strangling activity in the euro zone's second largest economy.

The protests in Paris and the southwestern city of Toulouse are the first in a week of demonstrations organized by employer groups before the Dec. 10 unveiling of a law President Francois Hollande's government hopes will boost investment and jobs.

But many business owners are skeptical that it will help them and want a drastic reduction in corporate tax rates.

"We are the economy, we are work," a rally of largely small business-owners and traders chanted outside the Finance Ministry in Paris where Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron is preparing the law. Police put the turnout at 2,200, about half that estimated by the CGPME small business lobby that organized it.

French businesses have some of the narrowest margins in Europe, while rigid labour laws are sometimes blamed for discouraging employers to hire extra staff. Unemployment is rooted above 10 per cent and jobless numbers rose in October.

The European Commission has set France a March 2015 deadline to take steps to reform its economy or faces fines over its failure to bring its public deficit within EU limits.

Macron expects to have the so-called "Law on Growth and Activity" passed through parliament by then, but the bill faces resistance from some in the ruling Socialist Party and trade unions wary that it will erode labour protections.

While French trade unions are known for street protests, it is rare for employer lobbies to take to the streets. One of the last major protests was against the introduction of the 35-hour working week in 2000.

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