Emmanuel Macron joins French soldiers deployed in Niger for a Christmas dinner. Photo: AFP
President Emmanuel Macron said he expects his flagship labour reforms to produce major results in terms of creating new jobs in France by mid-2019.
Joblessness was a constant thorn in the side of Macron's Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande, who failed to move the needle much below 10 percent during his single term in power.
Since Macron's election, unemployment has dipped to around 9.6 percent – still about twice that of Britain or Germany and well above the European average of 7.8 percent.
"We can expect major results within 18-24 months," the 40-year-old, elected to a five-year term in May, told the Spanish daily El Mundo.
"The first year of one's term is crucial. That's where you put in place the transformations that will produce real results, on employment as a priority, within two years. That's why I wanted to move fast."
French unemployment is expected to stabilise at around 9.4 percent by mid-2018, its lowest level since early 2012.
Macron promised during his campaign to bring the rate down to seven percent by the end of his term in 2022.
His labour reforms are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while making it easier and less costly to shed staff.
The measures chip into worker protections that have long been sacrosanct in France, frustrating reform-minded governments whether on the left or the right.
Macron denounced what he called a "hidden agenda" and "successive betrayals" on the part of his predecessors, whom he did not name.
He said they followed a "great French tradition" of failing to honour election promises, which he said had gutted public confidence.
Macron blamed France's "socially unfair and economically ineffective model" on a failure to "overcome resistance to change."
Asked about last week's divisive regional elections in Catalonia, Macron refused to be drawn, saying only that he continued to favour "legality and constitutional unity" in Spain.
"I hope stability and confidence will be rapidly restored in Catalonia," he added.
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