PARIS Competitiveness in France and Europe must be improved regardless of how strong the euro is, France's finance minister said on Sunday, in a rebuttal to critics who blame the currency's rise for French firms' export woes.
Several French politicians and companies including carmaker Renault (RENA.PA) and energy management firm Schneider Electric (SCHN.PA) have in recent months raised flags over the impact of the euro's strength on profits.
"The euro is at a high level...(But) we must not make a scapegoat out of currency," French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told BFM TV.
"What we must first restore is the health of our companies, their competitiveness...The euro's strength must not be a scapegoat or a pretext to avoid reforming Europe and France."
France's trade deficit, which hit a record of 74 billion euros in 2011, is one of the signs of French firms' loss of competitiveness on international markets. Although it has got smaller since then, figures suggest this is mainly due to exports falling less quickly than imports.
French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg has called for a more aggressive push from Europe and the European Central Bank to bring down the euro's value in order to boost exports.
(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey; Writing by Lionel Laurent; editing by Anna Willard)