Government 'working to repair France': Philippe

Prime Minister comes out fighting in gruelling two-hour TV debate

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Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted the government is working to 'repair France' in a two-hour TV debate on Thursday.

Mr Philippe was speaking on France 2's L'émission politique programme, during which he defended the government's labour reforms, the planned closure of nuclear plants, procreation rights, changes to the wealth tax - and clashed with France Insoumise leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Accused by Mr Mélenchon of worsening the situation for France's poorest people through benefit cuts, Mr Philippe said: "If the situation was good in the country, we would know it. We are starting from a situation where France is going badly.

"Our goal is to repair the country and get it back on track. Create growth, increase purchasing power … We all realise that France is doing badly. Our methods are not the same," he told Mr Mélenchon.

And he insisted that government cuts to assisted contracts, which have sparked protests and strike threats from mairies across the country, were necessary. He said the contracts, which are intended to help long-term unemployed find permanent jobs have a success rate of 26%.

He said that, in future, the government would work to ensure adequate on-the-job training provision is offered to staff employed on such contracts.

The France Insoumise leader also questioned Mr Philippe on the planned closure of 17 nuclear reactors.

Mr Philippe said: "There is a law, Mr Mélenchon. There are objectives recalled by the President. A law that demands the reduction of nuclear-produced power by 50% by 2025.

"To go down to 50% [of current production levels], it will be necessary to remove reactors. The Nuclear Safety Authority will rule on this."

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He admitted his views on opening up medically assisted conception to all had 'evolved'. In 2013, he had voted against plans to allow access to all women.

"My views have changed because I have met couples who have used this technique in Belgium, Spain. I see what it stirs up, what it allows. I do not see what it takes away."

Mr Philippe described recent announcements from the industrial sector as 'good news for French industry'. He said that he was happier to see French railway giant Alstom merge with the German Siemens, rather than Canadian group Bombardier.

He added: "I want to set up European giants based on French industrial know-how."

But he avoided answering questions on the controversial airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, merely saying it is 'a difficult decision' and reminded those watching of the three-person panel set up to make a final decision.

Quizzed on France's public debt, Mr Philippe criticised the two previous governments' 'laxity' on finances, and said the government would "reduce deficits every year, decrease public spending and preserve investment".

An Ipsos poll taken at the end of a gruelling two hours showed that Mr Philippe's performance had 'convinced' 52% of viewers. It will have come as some good news for the Prime Minister. An Odaxa study published on the day of the debate had found that 38% of respondents did not know his name.