French deficit figures mean economy is improving, minister says

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The government expects the French economy to grow faster than previously predicted this year

France has cut its budget deficit target for 2015 and signalled that the economic recovery is gathering pace.

After the release of better-than-expected deficit data for 2014, Finance Minister Michel Sapin said there were reasons to be confident about growth.

Official data showed the 2014 deficit was 4% instead of the 4.4% forecast, and will fall to about 3.8% this year, Mr Sapin predicted.

The eurozone's second biggest economy has held back the euro bloc's growth.

Following the improved data, Mr Sapin said economic growth could beat the government's 1% forecast. "A lower-than-expected deficit brings confidence," he said. "We will do better than 1% (economic) growth in 2015."

Public spending has fallen, and last year's expected shortfall in revenues was not a bad as initially thought. "Things are falling into place to back the scenario of growth accelerating in 2015," said Credit Agricole economist Axelle Lacan.

The eurozone's second-largest economy grew by 0.4% in 2014, the data confirmed on Thursday, the same pace as in 2013.

France, which has repeatedly missed its fiscal targets, is confident it will finally bring the deficit below an EU cap of 3% of GDP in 2017.

President Francois Hollande, during his 2012 election campaign, had pledged to bring the deficit down to the EU limit by end-2013 but his government has since pushed the target back several times.

This month, European Union finance ministers gave France two more years to cut the deficit to the 3% limit, extending the deadline for the third time since 2009.

Recent economic data has showed that although unemployment is still rising, business confidence has improved.