March 21, 2017 / 7:06 AM / 5 months ago

France must accelerate reforms to thwart populism-German official

Germany's Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth speaks during a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York January 22, 2015.Brendan McDermid

BERLIN (Reuters) - France must accelerate reforms and changes to tackle growing social and economic problems that are fuelling nationalism, populism and the rise of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, a top German official said on Tuesday.

European Affairs Minister Michael Roth told German broadcaster SWR2 that he viewed French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and his unabashed support for Europe as "remarkably positive."

Macron, a former investment banker, vowed during a visit to Berlin last week to reform the French economy if elected to restore trust with Germany and move Europe forward.

A snap opinion poll showed the centrist candidate was seen as the most convincing among the five top contenders in a marathon televised debate on Monday after clashing on immigration and Europe with Le Pen.

Roth told the radio broadcaster that French President Francois Hollande had begun needed reforms, but more work was needed to reverse the gains made by Le Pen.

"We're interested to see that our closest partner in the EU returns to political, cultural, social and economic stability," Roth said. "This path of renewal and change has to be accelerated dramatically."

He also said the European Union should carefully consider the potential consequences of its policies, including tough rules on budget and deficits.

"We should keep the political costs in mind. If, in the end, a European policy that we are also responsible for propels Marine Le Pen into office as president, I do not think we should support that," he said.

Roth said he was heartened by the results of the Dutch election and hoped it proved a harbinger for the French election as well.

"Europe was, is and will remain a life insurance for us in times of crisis, and in the end, I'm convinced that the citizens of France will see it the way large majorities did in the Netherlands, as well as Germany," he said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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