PARIS - Reducing France's debt is a question not of austerity but of guaranteeing the country's sovereignty, President Francois Hollande said on Monday.
"This is not a choice for an assault of austerity but the choice for the future sovereignty of our country," Hollande said as he opened a two-day "social conference" bringing together union and employers' groups.
Hollande, who defeated right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in May, is struggling to get France's public finances under control amid the eurozone debt crisis and fears of a potential recession in France.
He called for France to "make our social model evolve to better guarantee" the country's financial security, amid calls from business groups for greater labour market freedom and concerns over France's high trade deficit and low competitiveness.
"The moment has come to put France in motion, there is no time to lose," Hollande told about 300 people gathered for the conference.
He said he hoped to give "social dialogue" more prominence in the debate over the country's economy and even to "inscribe its role in the constitution".
He said the country was facing "three great challenges": controlling public finances, increasing competitiveness and tackling rising unemployment.
He also said the state "cannot remain inactive" in the face of potential job losses at major French companies and that concrete steps to boost youth employment would be taken by the beginning of next year.