March 30, 2016 / 3:26 PM / 4 years ago

France says tighter corruption laws will boost growth

PARIS, March 30 (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said on Wednesday that proposed tighter anti-corruption laws and enhanced government transparency could add 0.2 percent to the country’s economic output annually.

Sapin spoke while presenting planned laws for a new anti-corruption agency and greater protection for whistleblowers in a move to clean up France’s image after several French companies were slapped with huge fines abroad.

France ranked 23rd in Transparency International’s latest corruption perception index, behind Germany, Britain and the United States.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) criticised it in 2014 for failing to convict a single French company for foreign bribery, whereas French firms like Alstom have been slapped with large fines in the U.S.

“Trade prospers where corruption declines,” Sapin told reporters. “It could bring France about 0.2 percent of growth a year,” he said. Officials said the estimate came from the French Treasury and was based on international examples.

Transparency International criticised the government’s decision to drop plans to make it possible for companies to plead guilty in exchange for a financial settlement.

“The bill was emptied of a large part of its most incisive and innovative measures, and therefore, of its expected efficiency,” the organisation said in a statement on Sapin’s proposed legislation.

Sapin said the government dropped the plan for negotiated settlements, which would be a major change for country with a Roman law system like France, after the Conseil d’Etat - the country’s highest administrative court - advised against it.

But Sapin said he was open to amendments by lawmakers who would want to reintroduce the provision. Parliament is expected to adopt the bill before summer.

Business leaders said dropping the settlement provision would be a “missed opportunity” to speed up the lengthy legal procedures for French companies that put them at a disadvantage to their foreign rivals.

The bill, dubbed “Sapin 2” after the finance minister passed a first series of anti-bribery measures under a previous Socialist government in 1993, also includes measures to loosen up the qualifications required for many professions. (Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Tom Heneghan)

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