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France to sell off state assets

media Prime Minister Edouard Philippe with Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France is to sell off state assets to help raise billions of euros to finance innovation, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Sunday, confirming Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire's declaration that a series of privatisations will be announced in the next few weeks.

The government will sell off some state assets, Philippe said in a radio interview on Sunday, but not necessarily 100 percent ownership of companies that are currently nationalised.

He refrained from using the word "privatisation", unlike Le Maire on Saturday.

"In a few weeks' time I am going to announce that we will privatise certain companies to raise money to finance innovation," the economy minister told a business conference in Italy.

During his election campaign, President Emmanuel Macron promised to raise 10 billion euros for a fund to finance innovation, partly from profits from state assets but also possibly from privatisation.

Among the companies that are expected to be sold off is national lottery company, La Française des Jeux, which had a 14.3 billion-euro turnover in 2016.

Despite the privatisation programmes of successive governments, the French state has a controlling interest in 1,600 companies, employing about 1.1 million workers, notably in transport, energy and telecommunications.

Labour reform to be judged on unemployment figures

In a separate interview with the Journal du Dimanche paper, Philippe welcomed the fact that only one major union federation is committed to fighting the labour reform that is being introduced by a form of decree but added that its success will be "not be measured against the union but against unemployment", which the government claims will be reduced by the changes.

Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud said she would not back down, whatever the size of the protests planned by the CGT union and the left-wing France Unbowed party on 12 and 23 September in a Q+A with readers of Le Parisien newspaper.

The president was "elected with a very clear mandate on this matter", she said.

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