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French plan better than British, says UK minister Mandelson

Article published on the 2009-03-15 Latest update 2009-03-15 14:24 TU

Peter Mandelson( Photo: AFP )

Peter Mandelson
( Photo: AFP )

British Business Minister Peter Mandelson told Saturday's Financial Times that the UK must learn from France's practice of "setting strategic goals and objectives". Mandelson made the remarks on a visit to Paris to meet French industrialists and discuss their relationship with government.

“We have something to learn from continental practice without falling into the pitfalls of second-guessing business,” Mandelson told the business daily, although he insisted that “we are not talking about public ownership nor are we talking about centralised planning of business”.

Mandelson, who had several run-ins with the French when he was EU Trade Commissioner from 2004-2008, admitted that he is impressed by French planning in the energy sector, where it has promoted nuclear power, and in transport, where it has developed world-beating high-speed trains.

And he hinted that Britain's ruling Labour Party's enthusiasm for free markets under former Prime Minister Tony Blair and current premier Gordon Brown might have its limits in the current economic climate.

“We have not set major infrastructure objectives and then organised our industry and supply chain to deliver them as has been done in France,” he said. “We are quite good at putting the regulatory system in place, but we have always assumed the supply side would take care of itself."

Before the onset of the present economic crisis, mainstream British and  US commentators were fiercely critical of the French state's "dirigisme", which they regarded as unwarranted interference in the capitalist market.

President Nicolas Sarkozy seemed to echo many of those criticisms during his election campaign but his government has not shied away from economic intervention while in office.

With US President Barack Obama's administration advocating government action to stimulate the world's economies, the English-speaking world seems to be having a rethink thanks to the economic crisis.

"Not only do we need to do things differently, but we need to upscale significantly what we do," Mandelson told the Financial Times.