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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gaymard Promises Economic Upturn

PARIS -- New French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard vowed Tuesday to pursue an ambitious industrial policy by turning firms into "European champions," and cut unemployment and boost growth to make the economy more dynamic.

In his first public comments since he was appointed Monday, Gaymard confirmed there would be no major change in policy in the euro zone's second-largest economy and underlined his allegiance to President Jacques Chirac.

"We need a dynamic economy," Gaymard, 44, told Europe 1 Radio before he took office in a ceremony at his new ministry.

"The first [priority] is to remove the obstacles to growth and therefore to employment in the French economy. Second, we must have an extremely ambitious industrial policy, not just on the French level but also on the European level."

Chirac appointed Gaymard, a close ally, on Monday to consolidate his grip on economic policy. He replaced Nicolas Sarkozy who quit after taking over the governing conservative party, a post in which he can pursue his presidential ambitions.

Gaymard's comments signal he will continue Sarkozy's policy of staunchly defending French industry, which upset key ally Germany. But he also reached out to France's European allies by saying Europe as a whole should build industrial champions.

Sarkozy's refusal to allow the breakup of struggling engineering firm Alstom earlier this year fueled complaints that French industrial policy is too interventionist.

"Leaving things alone, letting the law of the jungle rule, means letting the powerful ones crush the little ones. There is no reason for Europe to lower its guard in world competition," said Gaymard, who had until now been agriculture minister.

Gaymard made clear he would work closely with Chirac, with whom the outspoken Sarkozy was not always in step.

"I owe a great deal to Jacques Chirac and I am very proud of the confidence he and [Prime Minister] Jean-Pierre Raffarin have put in me for this difficult mission," he said.

Gaymard said he thought the government's growth targets of 2.5 percent growth this year and in 2005 were credible, a belief supported by Raffarin during a visit to London.

"We think this is a good provision and we don't change [it]," Raffarin said, after a meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street.