French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech at the end of the Socialist Party's "Universite d'ete" summer meeting in La Rochelle, France, August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Hot topic: Manuel Valls backs the reform drive at the Socialist party conference in La Rochelle on Sunday © Reuters

Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, has pledged to deepen the government’s economic reforms, promising to “revise thoroughly” the country’s labour laws to give more flexibility to employers and wage earners.

Speaking at his Socialist party’s annual conference in the Atlantic port of La Rochelle, Mr Valls described France’s existing work code as “so complex that it has become inefficient: curbed activity; wage earners who no longer know their rights”.

Before flag-waving party faithful, his white shirt dripping with sweat, Mr Valls said: “We have to give more latitude to employers, to wage earners and to their representatives so that they can decide for themselves.”

Among other things, he said the reforms would mean “more flexibility for companies”.

His comments, which wrapped up two days of debate among Socialist party members, will doubtless be warmly received by the country’s private sector, which has long complained that labour regulations are too rigid.

The prime minister’s remarks also come at a particularly testing time for President François Hollande’s government, which is battling to reinvigorate a stubbornly sluggish economy and reduce unemployment, which remains at near-record highs.

In response, Mr Hollande has adopted more business-friendly proposals in an effort to get the economy going. But the tack has also deepened divisions on the left.

Days earlier, Emmanuel Macron, economy minister, had riled many party members as he appeared to criticise France’s 35-hour week — a sacred cow for the left.

Speaking to France’s Medef employers’ federation, Mr Macron said the left in France had thought at one time that “politics was done against businesses, or at least without them”. To rapturous cheers, he added: “It thought that France would do better by working less.”

But the prime minister said the forthcoming reforms would not touch the 35-hour week.

“That debate is closed,” said Mr Valls, who, according to one opinion poll on Sunday is ahead of Mr Hollande as the figure leftwing sympathisers would most like to see run as the Socialist candidate for the 2017 presidential election. “What interests me is not the past but the future.”

In a long and wide-ranging speech that touched on Europe’s migration crisis, terrorism and the environment, as France prepares to host the Paris climate summit in December, Mr Valls said the government would lower taxes next year.

Avoiding specific details, the Spanish-born prime minister said the government would propose a cut in income tax for households in the 2016 budget, to complement reductions that were already in place.

He said 9m middle-class and working-class households were already benefiting from reduced tax bills, which had meant, on average, savings of €300.

Mindful of regional elections at the end of this year — the last electoral contest before parties compete for the presidency in 2017 — Mr Valls urged Socialist party members to unite.

But he also warned the party that it had to be “inventive” and “adapt itself to the realities of the world”.

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