French growth has been stagnant for nearly two years, and unemployment has been rising for 19 straight months and is now at 10.6 percent â¿¿ a level not seen since 1999. Consumer confidence slipped again in March after briefly starting to rise earlier this year. The national statistics agency, Insee, found this month that the French are more pessimistic about the economy's prospects for the coming year than they have ever been. (The survey was first taken in 1972.)

But some may wonder if adding another tax on companies as he is trying to encourage growth is the right message to be sending.

Despite the poor economy, Hollande has avoided imposing the deep spending cuts that other European countries like Greece and Spain have imposed. And he said again Thursday that he would not go down that path â¿¿ even though France will miss its deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product this year.

"Prolonging austerity will risk not reducing the deficits and bring the certainty of having unpopular governments that populists will eat alive," he said.

France has largely avoided the unrest seen in European countries that are experiencing deep recessions, but the layoffs are piling up and have spawned some protests. On Thursday, around 100 workers from a factory that carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen wants to close stormed the offices of France's leading business lobby, Medef. Police said dozens were arrested.

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