(AFP) — French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday acknowledged having held discussions with Uber executives when he was economy minister from 2014-2016, insisting he was proud of what he had achieved.
"I'm extremely proud... it's difficult to create jobs without companies and without entrepreneurs," Macron told reporters in southeast France.
"I would do it again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow."
The pro-business centrist came under fire from opponents on Monday following investigations in Le Monde and The Guardian newspapers, which revealed repeated discussions between Macron and Uber over the group's operations in France.
Le Monde said Macron had been "more than a supporter, almost a partner" to the controversial US-based firm by offering to help with lobbying efforts to shape legislation and get around restrictive French regulation.
"We are creating a sort of atmosphere in which seeing the heads of companies, in particular foreign ones, is a bad thing. But I acknowledge it completely," Macron said on the sidelines of an event in Crolles.
"I've seen the heads of companies. What a shock! I saw them, it was always official, with my aides, and I'm proud. If they created jobs in France, then I'm super proud of that."
– A ‘salesman for Uber’ –
The newspapers said some of the meetings with Uber executives were not recorded in Macron's official diary and took place without the knowledge of other members of the Socialist government of the day.
The president, 44, finished by stressing he was unperturbed by the revelations, using a vulgar expression popularized by the late president Jacques Chirac which refers to testicles.
"As one of my predecessors would say, it touches one of them, without moving the other," Macron said.
Danielle Simonnet, an MP from the hard-left France Unbowed party, criticized Macron's choice of language. "If that's innovation, then it's lamentable from a president," she said.
"The reaction from the head of state is shameful because it means he acknowledges being a salesman for Uber, of being at the service of lobbies rather than at the service of our country.
The former investment banker took an openly pro-Uber position while minister, despite sometimes violent protests against the firm by taxi drivers and multiple investigations by the authorities into the group's business and tax practices.
Macron defended the group at the time for providing employment for people in low-income areas and breaking the monopoly on licences held by taxi companies.
"We helped taxi drivers a huge amount during the (Covid 19) crisis," Macron said on Tuesday. "I have always respected this profession, but we had a system that was administratively closed. We didn't give enough licences."
– Parliamentary enquiry –
Left-wing opposition parties confirmed Tuesday that they would seek a parliamentary inquiry into Macron's contacts with the group, which some in France see as a symbol of aggressive, rule-breaking American capitalism.
The Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that in private Macron had dismissed the media investigations as "empty" and suggested pushing back against the allegations which he said showed "no illegality".
Some aides were alarmed, however, because the reports risked reinforcing his reputation as "the president of the rich", the paper added. His critics taxed him with this label after he cut income taxes for the wealthy shortly after coming to power.
At the event in Crolles on Tuesday to mark a 5.7-billion-euro ($5.8 billion) investment in a new semiconductor factory, Macron said his government had succeeded in attracting investors and encouraging investment.
"The first thing that I want to state is that we have put an end to the slow de-industrialization of France," he said.
"We are reopening industrial sites. We are opening more than we close. We're creating manufacturing jobs.
"Why? Because we made the right macroeconomic choices," he said.
By Valérie LEROUX