In our highly politicized country, observers are required to have a clear judgment. Contemporary media and social media emphasize this requirement of unconditional commitment. We are being asked to find Emmanuel Macron’s grandiose economic balance (look at unemployment) or show how much weaker the country has ever been (look at the public debt).
All this doesn’t make much sense. In any assessment there is good and bad, good surprises and disappointments. I leave in this column the economic management of the crisis, which I have tried several times to show in these pages in that it has been exemplary to focus on the reforms made since the start of the Five Year Plan and their effects are measurable.
Relaxation of the Labor Code
Let’s start with the best: work orders that went into effect in 2017 under the leadership of Muriel Penico, and a recent reform that limits access to unemployment insurance. By allowing companies to opt out of industry agreements on issues such as working hours, these rulings have effectively taken the country out of the 35-hour workweek and given our companies a new opportunity to adapt.
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More generally, they have completed the labor market flexibility work begun by Nicolas Sarkozy with the introduction of the regular break and continued by François Hollande with the El Khomri laws. The result: The unemployment rate fell to 7.4% of the active population at the end of 2021 and, more importantly, the employment rate of 15-64 year olds reached a record high of 67.8%, helped, however, by study aids. We are still far from full employment, but these figures, which would seem mediocre in many countries, are excellent in terms of France’s economic history. For twenty years, all governments have worked to improve the functioning of the labor market. It paid off.
The most pleasant thing is also the capital tax exemption measures, which have made our country especially attractive to foreign investors. France received more foreign direct investment in 2019 and 2020 than the UK or Germany, according to Ernst & Young. What a change! In fact, the image of our country outside of France has improved significantly. It remains to increase the invested amounts to make France the most attractive country in Europe. It’s within our reach.
The ability to re-industrialize oneself
It is this attractiveness that will determine our ability to reindustrialize. At the moment, even if industrial employment is growing slightly, our terrible foreign trade deficit (85 billion euros in 2021) shows that we still produce very little compared to what the French buy. It would be premature to talk about the failure of the current majority, because our trade deficit is more than twenty years old, and it is obviously too early to assess the consequences of tax cuts on production or the France 2030 plan, which on paper seem insignificant. more than relevant. But it seems clear that France has not yet found the means to become a major industrial nation, much less an innovation-producing nation.
We chat about our twenty or so unicorns (those start-ups with a valuation of over 1 billion euros) without noticing that they are many, but they are small and that they are poorly represented in sectors with very high technology intensity. In terms of production/innovation, we have not yet taken all the steps that will unleash the French genius. There remain a few absolutely fundamental topics that have only been touched upon in the past five years: in particular, public spending (including the failed attempt at pension reform) and housing.
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Sorry for the lack of frills that prevent this chronicle from being either panegyric or aggression. Maybe that’s the price of honesty. In one of his letters of 1839, Tocqueville admitted that he found himself in an intellectually and ethnically strict intermediate state, but difficult to defend and painful for life: it does not produce either friends or foes, a bad situation if it ever was.