France can reap rewards from Brexit, elections: business lobby chief

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of the main French bosses’ group expects an investment boost from the election of either Francois Fillon or Emmanuel Macron as president in May as companies with spending on hold for the result combine with a Brexit-led influx.

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MEDEF chief Pierre Gattaz said, however, that an unexpected win by Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader, would lead to strategies that are “stupid, absurd and dangerous”.

“The election of Francois Fillon or Emmanuel Macron would be a motive to come to France, or to stay,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“The French elections can also bring some extra benefits to potentially attract those disappointed with Brexit,” he said, referring to firms considering shifting their base from Britain as it leaves the European Union.

Le Pen wants to quit the European Union and the euro and lower the retirement age. She would also tax imports and foreign workers.

Opinion polls show that she has little chance of winning, but in light of other electoral shocks in the past year, and given that she is likely to reach the second-round run-off vote on May 7, uncertainty remains.

Gattaz, who is chairman of his family’s electronics business, said Fillon’s program was the best for business in his view. The Republicans’ candidate plans to cut public spending by 100 billion euros ($107.42 billion) over the next five years, cut company taxes, raise the retirement age and abolish the 35-hour restriction on the working week.

As for Macron, who is about 8 or 9 percentage points ahead of Fillon in the opinion polls, Gattaz said the independent centrist’s program “goes in the right direction,” but that parts of it remained unclear.

“There are areas of imprecision such as with regard to retirement and unemployment insurance,” he said. “We’d like to see how it adds up overall. We are talking about hundreds of millions here and there, even several billion.”

Macron’s spending cut plans are more modest than Fillon’s at 60 billion euros, and he would also launch 50 billion worth of public spending that Gattaz says would be better used in the hands of private enterprise.

Nevertheless, the ex-investment banker, who as economy minister was instrumental in the pro-business reforms of Socialist President Francois Hollande, is part of a “reformist left” which Gattaz said had been a positive development of the Hollande years.

Gattaz, who met all three of the main candidates at a business forum earlier this week, said Le Pen’s policies were abhorrent to him and would unleash a “hurricane”.

“It’s a defeatist strategy,” the 57-year-old said. “It’s saying we are too weak. That’s unacceptable to me. The world is waiting for France. If you don’t go there, forget full employment, you are turning in on yourself... It’s a stupid, absurd, dangerous strategy.”

For a graphic on French election, click here

Additional reporting by Myriam Rivet and Michel Rose; Writing by Andrew Callus; editing by John Irish/Jeremy Gaunt