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Macron pitches France Inc as post-COVID-19 investment destination

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron has sensed an opportunity to market France as Europe’s next business destination after the coronavirus crisis and embarked on a charm offensive with international investors on Friday, French officials said.

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Despite France and much of Europe being in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic’s second wave, Macron is betting that investors will prefer the “upside risk” of his 100 billion euro recovery package to Brexit Britain or “stable” Germany.

“Why are we doing that? We’ve realised that investors are facing a blank slate now and that the CEOs of big multinationals are closely looking at how each country is responding to the crisis,” one French presidential adviser said.

“Britain is bogged down in Brexit, which isn’t helping promote their country,” another Macron adviser added. “Germany has a recovery package more tilted towards demand than supply, so they have no new selling case to speak of.”

Macron has organised a conference call on Friday with the chief executives of Tata, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Zalando, among others, to seek to secure new investment - the virtual version of the “Choose France” summits he has held before Davos gatherings in the past.

Asked about the timing of the sales pitch amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in France, which was forced to declare a second lockdown last month, the officials said investors were looking past the second wave and deciding now which countries would be the long-term post-coronavirus winners.

“The whole of Europe has seen a new flare-up in the epidemic. The CEOs know very well there will be several waves such as this one,” one of the French officials said.

“What’s important to show is that France is not only focused on managing the crisis, but is also looking forward and transforming the economy,” he added.

The French economy rebounded 16% in the third quarter following an unprecedented 13.8% slump in the second quarter, after the country was put under one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe. The second lockdown is likely to tip the country back into contraction territory in the final quarter.

Paris has mobilised more than 470 billion euros in tax breaks, state-subsidised furloughs and business loan guarantees to contain the crisis and unveiled a two-year 100 billion plan to cut business taxes and invest in renewable energy projects.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Alex Richardson

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