French government ministers have reacted angrily to the front cover of the latest issue of the Economist magazine's latest front cover - which features a bundle of French baguettes with a lighted fuse, under the headline "The time-bomb at the heart of Europe".
The special report warned that the dire state of the French economy – with its high unemployment, lack of competitiveness, dying industry and high public spending – could be the next biggest threat to the eurozone, dwarfing the problems of Greece or Spain.
The magazine warned François Hollande's reforms did not go far enough to address the country's economic woes and if these were not resolved, France could jeopardise the future of the euro.
"Honestly, the Economist has never distinguished itself by its sense of even-handedness," the industry minister Arnaud Montebourg told French radio, likening it to the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, which recently sparked criticism for publishing cartoons depicting a naked prophet Muhammad.
The French finance minister Pierre Moscovici called the report an "absurd and groundless" exercise in "French bashing" while prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault accused the Economist of sensationalism. "You are talking about a newspaper which is resorting to excess to sell paper. France isn't at all impressed," he told French TV.
This is not the first time that the Economist's front page, and the suggestion that France was not looking hard enough at the need for reform, has ruffled feathers in Paris. During the election campaign, when a cover showed Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy reclined on the grass in Manet's painting Déjeuner Sur L'herbe with the headline "France in denial: The west's most frivolous election", Laurent Joffrin editor of the left-leaning weekly the Nouvel Observateur called it the "Pravda of finance" and a "little Taliban of liberalism".
Laurence Parisot, head of the employers' organisation Medef, said there was justice in the latest Economist piece because "if France collapses, the whole of Europe collapses." But she said that since the piece was written, the government had begun to take measures to restore French competitiveness.
John Peet, the Europe editor of the Economist, said: "The point of this cover and the article is to encourage France. Other countries ... have conducted many reforms. This is not yet the case in France."
He added: "The government ... has finally recognised the competitiveness problem in the past few months. But it is only a diagnosis, words. Now they must act."
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