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France Prioritizes Paying Debts as Rates Set to Rise, Finance Minister Says

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02/15/2018 | 11:43am CEST

By William Horobin

PARIS--French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday that France will redouble efforts to pay down its debt as interest rates are set to rise by the end of the year.

With a debt burden near 100% of annual economic output, France is "exposed" to the risk of a rise in interest rates, Mr. Le Maire said. Each extra point on interest rates costs taxpayers in France a further EUR3 billion, the finance minister said.

"Debt is a poison for the French economy," Mr. Le Maire said at a conference at the French finance ministry.

Mr. Le Maire said any tax revenues above expectations in 2018 would be channeled into paying down France's debts rather then extra public spending. France could also take extra measures to cut its debt, he said, without specifying how.

France's debt stood at 98.1% of gross domestic product at the end of the third quarter, according to the most recent figures from statistics agency Insee. In its budget presentation at the end of September, the French government said it aimed to stabilize debt at 96.8% of GDP in 2018.

Write to William Horobin at william.horobin@wsj.com

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