August 30, 2015 / 9:45 AM / in 2 years

French PM says to stick to reforms despite party heckles

LA ROCHELLE, France (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told ruling Socialist party members on Sunday he would stick to pro-business reforms, despite heckling and booing by activists showing the divisions over economic policy.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls attends the Socialist Party's "Universite d'ete" summer meeting in La Rochelle, France, August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

A small group of young party members booed Valls at a dinner on Saturday and called for the resignation of Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, whom they accuse of favoring business over Socialist ideals, participants said on Sunday.

Many hardcore party members are uneasy about Macron, who epitomizes the pro-business approach adopted by President Francois Hollande at the beginning of 2014 and with which Valls, the favorite of the left wing of the party to succeed him as president, is also associated.

Rebel backbenchers were very vocal during the three-day meeting and warned that they wanted their demands met in the 2016 budget bill, including tens of billions of tax cuts for businesses, due to be unveiled next month.

A party spokeswoman confirmed there had been “a few boos” when Valls walked through the room at the behind-closed-doors dinner. He also was heckled during his speech on Sunday when he said labor laws had become so complex that they had become inefficient.

However, Valls told the party the government was pushing on.

“We are pressing ahead with the deep reforms our economy needs,” Valls said on Sunday. “We won’t be swayed.”

While pressure on Hollande to change tack from his party is unlikely to change the core of his policy despite France’s economy slowed to a standstill in the second quarter, it could complicate his bid to get re-elected as parties prepare for the presidential ballot.

Hollande and Valls have said they would stick to a policy that puts a lid on public spending to meet EU budget targets, but they have also showed they are willing to compromise. They announced earlier this month that the 2016 budget would contain tax cuts for households.

The latest row over economic policy started when Macron on Thursday criticized France’s cherished 35-hour working week, saying the Socialist party was mistaken in thinking that France would fare better if people worked less.

The was move decried as a “provocation” by PS secretary-general Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.

“The Valls-Macron line is a minority in the Socialist party ... hence the boos,” political analyst Pascal Perrineau said.

Editing by Alison Williams

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