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France, Germany shut down for big match

Friday, July 04 15:18:03

The euro zone's two largest economies slipped into low gear today as workers in Germany and France skipped shifts or put up TV screens in the workplace to watch the crunch World Cup quarter-final between their nations.

Politics also ground slowly to a halt, with the ruling Socialists in France even demanding that the day's session be curtailed to end at 6:00 p.m. - kick-off time - to accommodate senators eager to follow the match live.

"Better that than having the senators watching their tablets during the session or continually sneaking out to watch snippets of the game," a party spokeswoman said. "It just shows that senators are typical men."

In Germany, auto giant Volkswagen cancelled the late shift for 4,000 workers at its main plant in the northern city of Wolfsburg, and a company spokesman said similar arrangements would be made at other factories.

Drug-maker Bayer came up with another solution aimed at keeping business ticking over during the two hours of the encounter.

"We're going for flexibility," a spokesman explained. "So employees can swap their shifts with others less interested in football or - with a manager's approval - take time off from holiday or working time credits."

Surprising many, France have advanced to the quarter-final stage of the World Cup to meet their toughest challenge yet in nemesis Germany, which dealt them heart-breaking World Cup semi-final defeats in 1982 and 1986.

Work comes second to football not only in traditional soccer nations like France and Germany. U.S. head coach Juergen Klinsmann - a former German national - produced a spoof "doctor's note" for American fans seeking to skip work to watch the U.S.-Germany tie earlier in the tournament. "I understand that this absence may reduce the productivity of your workplace, but I can assure you that it is for an important cause," wrote Klinsmann.

The impending confrontation has dominated media headlines for days, with diaries in the business and political world carefully recalibrated to allow untroubled viewing.

President Francois Hollande was due to watch the match in his Elysee palace surrounded by a hundred French school-leavers who took German as an option and scored the best exam grades.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel would be tuning in and "wants the team to win - no matter how", a spokesman said.

Fabrice Bregier, chief executive of European aerospace group Airbus, has changed his travel plans for a trip from company headquarters in the southern city of Toulouse to Beijing so that he can watch the game during a brief stop-over in Paris, an official said.

Back in Toulouse, the group's 2,000-strong German staff contingent where expected to flock to international pubs in the Blagnac suburb where the company is based.

With the usual pre-weekend rush to supermarkets seen thinner than most Friday nights, retail group Carrefour said its giant La Ville du Bois hypermarket south of Paris would have TVs in staff rest areas so they could watch during breaktimes. Cashiers will be wearing the red-white-and-blue facepaint.

Germany accounts for 29 percent of euro zone economic output and France 21 percent - meaning together they account for no less than half of total output in the 18-member zone.

Calculating the impact on the economy of such an event is near impossible: What is lost in production is partially made up for in the bars. Sebastien Fouqueau, manager of the Havana Bar in Paris's 13th arrondissement, was quoted by Le Parisien daily as saying he expected 500 clients, 10 times more than usual.

Getting into the spirit, investment house Euler Hermes sought to predict the outcome of the match by listing the plus and minus points of the two economies.

Germany scored goals, it concluded, with a faster growth rate, higher employment, lower taxes, better exports and greater use of robotics in industry.

But France pulled level with its higher birth rate, a slower rise in labour costs, a higher proportion of students in further education, lower energy costs and lower poverty rates.

"Despite an economy struggling to recover, France could pull off a surprise with a gradual pick-up in investment," the Paris-based firm said, forecasting French victory in a penalty shoot-out. (Reuters)