New French PM unveils revitalisation plans

Paris (AFP)


France's new Prime Minister Jean Castex won solid parliamentary backing Wednesday as he outlined plans to revitalise the nation, vowing to make jobs his overarching priority.

With the economy having taken a battering over the effects of the coronavirus Castex, drafted in by President Emmanuel Macron to head a new government and lead the nation out of its worst health and economic crisis since World War II, said he was up for the challenge.

He duly won the support of 345 lawmakers to 177 against with 43 abstentions amid opposition claims that confidence in him is already "broken".

With France's COVID-19 death toll exceeding 30,000 one of the world's highest, Castex also confirmed to Le Parisien daily what Macron had trailed in his July 14 national day address, that from August 1 masks in shops and other enclosed public spaces will be mandatory to stop a virus resurgence.

"Let's get to work," said Castex, whose government has pledged billions of euros for investments as well as measures to limit job losses in an economy expected to shrink by around 10 percent this year.

After poor local poll results two weeks ago for his centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party, Macron turned to Castex, a senior but low-profile bureaucrat who on Wednesday vowed to "reconcile" and bring together the various factions in French society.

He pledged to reinforce social protection while stepping up efforts to transition to a green economy.

Castex said preserving jobs would be the key plank of his programme over the coming 18 months and also fleshed out some details of a mooted 100 billion euro ($114 billion) EU scheme to tackle unemployment as the bloc's 27 economies reel from the effects of the coronavirus.

The health system is also to receive support -- six billion euros having been earmarked, including support for wages rises for health workers.