Paris (AFP) - France's Socialist Prime Minister declared his love for companies and ally Germany Wednesday in a speech that earned him rapturous applause from the country's business elite following a damaging political crisis.
Speaking to a gathering of the country's main MEDEF employers' union, Manuel Valls sought to put to bed weekend comments made by his former economy minister slamming France's economic direction and German-led austerity measures, as he consolidates his government's pro-business stance.
"France needs you," he told the gathering to much clapping. "I love companies!"
"I know it is the custom to oppose the (political) left and the business world, it's an old tune. But I deeply believe that our country needs to shake off this position, these role-plays that we are so used to," he said.
"It has made us lose too much time, and our country is dying because of these positions."
Valls' comments came just two days after he tendered his government's resignation in a shock move sparked when Arnaud Montebourg -- the outspoken former economy minister who is on the left of the ruling Socialist party -- stepped out of line and made the controversial weekend comments.
These cost Montebourg his job, and he was replaced in an emergency reshuffle by former Rothschild banker Emmanuel Macron, who was economic advisor to President Francois Hollande and one of the architects of the country's move towards a more pro-business outlook.
Valls' speech drew immediate comparisons to former British prime minister Tony Blair, whose centre-left New Labour party also cosied up to the business world.
"I am well versed in the ideological evolution of Socialist parties over the past two decades, and I can tell you that it's a cut-and-paste of the type of speeches that Tony Blair made in the 1990s in England," Laurent Baumel, a Socialist lawmaker, told BFMTV.
"It's an ideological proposal to break with everything we on the left have believed in for decades."
- 'Absurd face-to-face' -
But as France desperately struggles to emerge from the crisis, Hollande is pinning his hopes on a package of tax breaks for business funded by public spending cuts to kickstart growth again.
The so-called Responsibility Pact aims to cut social charges for companies in return for the promised creation of 500,000 jobs.
But with the current emphasis on austerity within Europe, France has vowed to counterbalance that with 50 billion euros ($66 billion) in cuts to public spending.
The country is battered by a jobless rate of more than 10 percent, high taxes and a budget deficit that stubbornly refuses to come down to the EU ceiling of three percent of GDP.
Adding fuel to the fire, France's labour ministry announced Wednesday that unemployment hit a new high in July, with 3.424 million people now out of work -- the ninth consecutive monthly rise.
Valls -- who was appointed in March after the Socialists suffered a drubbing in local polls -- has strongly defended the Responsibility Pact as the best way to drag France out of the crisis.
But those on the left of the party argue that public spending should increase instead of being reduced, and slam austerity policies advocated by Germany.
Montebourg himself criticised France's European ally in his weekend comments, arguing Germany was "trapped in an austerity policy that it imposed across Europe" -- remarks that Valls pointedly sought to smooth over in his speech.
"Now more than ever, Europe needs strong and lasting ties between France and Germany," he told the business leaders.
"I reject any absurd face-to-face with Germany," he added.