French leader cosies up to entrepreneurs with new plan

French President Francois Hollande on Monday announced a series of measures aimed at winning back the confidence of small business owners needed to kickstart the country's struggling economy.

Speaking to a group of 300 entrepreneurs in Paris, Hollande also laid out proposals to attract foreign investment into a country threatened with recession and suffering from dogged unemployment, and to help French firms expand abroad.

The most-awaited reform concerned the capital gains tax on sales of company stakes or entire firms, which the government had wanted to hike as part of plans to reduce the public deficit, before backtracking last year amid a revolt by entrepreneurs.

Hollande said Monday that business owners would still have to pay the tax but would be able to get up to 85 percent exemptions if they had owned or held a stake for at least eight years, or smaller rebates for shorter periods.

He also announced a new "entrepreneur visa" to be created for foreigners seeking to set up an innovative start-up in France if they invest a "sufficient amount" of money.

The French leader also said that he would like to set up services in some parts of the world -- beginning with the United States and Asia -- to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) export their good and services abroad.

Tax advantages could be granted to large companies that invested in smaller start-ups that sought to expand abroad.

Fleur Pellerin, junior minister for SMEs, told BFMTV that the package of measures reflected "the way in which we perceive the role that entrepreneurs must play in our society for the success of our country."

Among other measures, Hollande said the French Public Investment Bank -- set up last year to help innovative SMEs -- would create a new financing tool for setting up firms in underprivileged areas.

The measures were broadly welcomed by business owners.

Jean-Francois Roubaud, head of the CGPME, an employers's organisation that represents SMEs, said the measures were "completely acceptable and there will be unanimous satisfaction."

The package of measures are to be integrated into a draft 2014 budget unveiled in September by the government, with the aim of coming into force in January 2014.