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France

Hollande's surprise choice for economic adviser post

© Photo: AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2014-06-11

Among six new advisers joining French President François Hollande at the Elysée this week is a surprise pick: Laurence Boone, who has been a loud critic of the socialist government while serving as Bank of America's chief economist in Europe.

Facing a near stagnant economy and dismal approval ratings, Hollande hopes a handful of new advisers in the fields of economy, diplomacy, culture, sports and the environment can help his presidency rebound.

The choice of Boone as the president’s top economics counsellor has turned heads in France because, at 45, she is relatively young, and because she comes from the business world. Most advisors at the Elysée – under any president – are career civil servants; graduates of elite administration schools with little or no experience in the marketplace.

French banking economist Laurence Boone has been appointed President Hollande's top economic adviser. © Photo courtesy of strategie.gouv.fr

Furthermore, Boone has penned stinging editorials against Hollande’s socialist government in the recent past, statements the French press have gleefully circulated following news of her appointment on Tuesday.

In April she warned that the financial markets were completely disregarding France’s policy changes due to the government’s “lack of credibility” in implementing reforms.

In an editorial titled “We Must Stop the Massacre” for the market-friendly daily L’Opinion, Boone went further:

“What’s the problem, you ask? The complete absence of economic policy… Without a credible economic strategy, France in three years will be facing 3 million unemployed, three or four percent deficit, a debt equal to 100 percent of its GDP, and recent university graduates who continue to exile themselves abroad.”

An international perspective

Boone’s sudden jump from London’s financial district to the halls of French government has caught many off guard, but follows a continuous and rising career trajectory.

The French-born economist joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch as its chief economist for Europe in 2011, after seven years as chief economist at Barclays Capital France.

Before her stints at the prominent banks, Boone worked as an economist for the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and a French international economics think tank.

She holds a PhD in Economics from the London Business School, and sits on the board of French luxury goods group Kering, which includes the brand Gucci.

“She brings a strong international perspective [to Hollande’s government], which could be beneficial to the economic policies of the country,” Emmanuel Moulin, deputy chief executive officer of the Eurotunnel group (and a former economics adviser to former president Nicolas Sarkozy) told the right-wing daily Le Figaro.

Close to the prime minister

While Boone has dashed off stinging rebukes of Hollande's policies and has earned praise from the president’s political rivals, she should not be mistaken as an enemy of the French government.

Le Figaro revealed on Wednesday that as far back as 2011, Boone was advising Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose tough-on-crime and market-friendly overtures have earned him hearty criticism from the left wing of his own Socialist Party.

She almost joined Valls’ staff at the prime minister’s office in April, when he suddenly went from being interior minister to France’s number two.

In terms of policy proposals, she recently spoke favourably of German labour laws that offer businesses the possibility to pay younger workers a lower minimum wage and lower taxes to employ young people.

She favours cross-EU banking regulations, and has often said that one of the keys to France’s overdue economic recovery is giving banks incentives to lend more easily.

Now at the helm of Hollande’s economic agenda and pegged as a maverick within his administration, she must now prove she can turn the boat around.

Date created : 2014-06-11

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