Valls says France would never ask Germany to solve its problems

BERLIN (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sought to reassure Berlin on Tuesday that his country was making progress on economic reforms and would not ask Germany to solve its problems.

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Speaking after a German industry leader said Germany was not responsible for France’s economic problems, Valls pledged in a speech that won a standing ovation to pursue reforms to revive an economy often characterised in Germany as “sick”.

“Do you think that if I thought Germany was to blame for the problems in France ... I would stand here today and explain to you what reforms we are implementing?” Valls told an industry conference in the German capital.

“I would never ask Germany to solve our problems but I would like us to join forces,” he added.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is under pressure from its euro zone partners to loosen the fiscal reins and use government coffers to boost investment.

But Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has stuck to his line that reform is the best way to foster growth.

Ulrich Grillo, head of Germany’s main industry association, had earlier told the conference France’s economic problems were not Germany’s fault, adding: “It’s also not Germany’s responsibility to solve these problems.”

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Earlier this month Paris acknowledged it would not bring its deficit down below the EU limit of 3 percent of national output until 2017. Initially, it had pledged to do so by 2013, before winning a reprieve until 2015.

Data confirmed on Tuesday that the French economy posted zero growth in the second quarter after stalling in the first three months of the year, while surveys showed business activity slowed again this month amid weakness in the key service sector.

Valls said while France did have problems, German comments on a lack of growth in France were sometimes a “caricature”.

He insisted that the euro zone’s second largest economy, which German mass-selling daily Bild has dubbed “Krankreich” or “sick France”, would now tackle its problems head-on.

“A lot of politicians in Paris have talked the talk but haven’t walked the walk. Speeches aren’t enough - we must carry out the reforms,” Valls said.

Germany was itself once dismissed as the “sick man of Europe” but has bounced back in recent years thanks partly to labour reforms pushed through by Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democrat predecessor of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I know the obstacles and challenges that France is facing. But if Germany managed ... why shouldn’t France be able to do the same?” Valls said.

Additional reporting by Rene Wagner and Madeline Chambers; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Stephen Brown and Catherine Evans