When some German politicians called on French President François Hollande recently to step up the pace of economic reform in France, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble sprang to Hollande's defense in Berlin, saying it was wrong to call Europe's second-largest economy the "sick man" of the region.
The heads of France's biggest companies do not agree. Over the past few weeks, an extraordinary cry of alarm has risen from chief executives who warn that the French economy has gone dangerously off track. In an interview to be published on Nov. 15 in the magazine l'Express, Chief Executive Officer Henri de Castries of financial-services group Axa (CS:FP) warns that France is rapidly losing ground, not only against Germany but against nearly all its European neighbors. "There's a strong risk that in 2013 and 2014, we will fall behind economies such as Spain, Italy, and Britain," de Castries says.