Business leaders on Wednesday hailed promises by French President Francois Hollande to cut taxes and spending, but the left accused him of lurching to the right.
Hollande stonewalled on questions about his personal life at a high-profile press conference on Tuesday, batting aside queries about revelations of an alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet.
He focused instead on reviving France's beleaguered economy, laying out a "social democratic" vision at odds with election promises to boost spending and crack down on the rich.
Insisting that a return to economic growth was essential to France "retaining its influence", Hollande announced plans for 50 billion euros ($68 billion) in spending cuts between 2015-2017 and a 30-billion-euro reduction in corporate payroll charges.
"It was a move in the right direction. There is a growing awareness of the reality in France," the head of the MEDEF employers' union, Pierre Gattaz, told journalists.
In Germany, where there has been concern for some time about the pace of reforms in the lagging French economy, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on welcomed Hollande's announcement as a marked "paradigm change".
The measures amounted to "a clear paradigm change and it will now depend how that is implemented," Andreas Schockenhoff, the conservatives' deputy parliamentary group leader, said on RBB public radio.
Hollande, whose popularity has plummeted to record lows, is under intense pressure to revitalise the French economy and reduce near record unemployment.
Citing Nordic countries as a model, he said his plans would allow France to boost growth while maintaining its much-cherished welfare state.
But far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon slammed Hollande's plans as "the most violent shift to the right" in decades.
"It's an enormous disappointment, we have never seen anything like it," Melenchon told RTL radio. "Hollande has adopted all the vocabulary of the right, the entire neo-liberal point of view."
Hollande also promised to reduce France's notorious red tape and said businesses would be required to increase employment in exchange for liberalisation.
Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici insisted that Hollande -- who once declared "I don't like the rich" -- had not veered to the right.
"This is a left-wing policy. This is social democracy and that's on the left," Moscovici told Radio Classique.
In a rare show of positive coverage for Hollande, French newspapers were brimming with praise after his press conference.
Left-wing newspaper Liberation said Hollande was a man "set free" to show his true social-democratic colours, while centrist Le Parisien hailed a "high-voltage" performance, saying: "In both form and substance, something changed yesterday at the Elysee."
Even right-wing newspaper Le Figaro said Hollande had made the right noises, but it warned that "words will not be enough" for France's creditors and ratings agencies.
Economists expressed guarded optimism, with Christian Schulz of German bank Berenberg saying: "France?s companies may be getting a much-needed boost ... 2014 could be a window of opportunity for Hollande."
Crucial year for Hollande: analysts
Barclays analyst Fabrice Montagne welcomed "the restarting of economic reform" and agreed that "2014 will be a crucial year."
"While we maintain our cautious view of French policies ... we are now upwards biased, acknowledging the possibility of a positive surprise during the next six months," he said.
The marathon press conference saw Hollande put off the question of his tangled love life, telling reporters he would clarify the status of long-time girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler before a scheduled trip to the United States next month.
Hollande admitted that the couple were going through "painful moments" but said it was a personal matter that would be dealt with privately.
Trierweiler, 48, has been in hospital since Friday with stress linked to last week's revelation alleging that Hollande, 59, has been having a secret liaison with the 41-year-old Gayet.
The supposed affair has raised questions about the official status of Trierweiler, who has a staff of five funded by the taxpayers, and also about whether Hollande risked his own safety by visiting the actress at a borrowed flat.
Satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported Wednesday that the government had recently named Gayet a member of the jury choosing residents of the Villa Medici French artistic academy in Rome -- raising concerns of a possible conflict of interest.
The culture ministry later said she had not been named but refused to comment further.
Date created : 2014-01-15