A French sclerosis

A French sclerosis

France needs to reform its economic model urgently. And, in the European context, it has to at least demonstrate to its European Union partners that it can reform, which leaves a large margin for play-pretend, writes Dr Emmanuel Martin.

The ‘Macron law’, named after French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, was supposed to put France back on track and show its partners how France is not the rigid, unreformable country it appears in caricature.

Except it has not quite worked out as planned.

First, the bill is a catch-all document with only timid attempts to liberalise France’s economy. The law has not matched the promises or hype. Pro-market reform worthy of the name would have involved far more liberalisation for France’s over-regulated economy and over-sized bureaucracy. It is mind-boggling that so many hours of debate and so many resources have been dedicated to such tiny reforms.

Second, the Macron law has been watered down by interminable amendments and concessions. The chance of opening shops 12 Sundays a year has arrived with the opportunity for cities to choose which Sundays, between 12 and…zero. Opening national coach lines to competition will now be decided case-by-case. And the law supposed to make ‘regulated’ legal professions, such as notaries, more in line with the public interest has missed its target.

Yet, even with a shrunken reform agenda in the bill, the government was uncertain of achieving a majority in the National Assembly as it faced opposition from the right, the left and within the very ranks of the Socialist party.

It therefore imposed the law by a special measure in the French constitution. Centre-right opposition groups then called for a motion of censure. Yet many ‘courageous’ MPs on the left, who had opposed the new law, failed to vote for the censure because dissolving the National Assembly would certainly mean them losing their comfortable seats.

This was an example of France’s deep conservatism and the difficulty of introducing reform. The very structure of French regulation and its welfare system is corporatist and conservative, with too many people enjoying ‘other people’s money’ or anti-competitive privileges.

These groups have no desire to reform. A political class, especially on the left, which is ideologically insulated from the realities of the 21stcentury, finally nails the coffin of any serious attempt to reform.

France needs a new political class, not Marine Le Pen’s National Front, but one of men and women with some understanding of the economy.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said, ‘I love businesses.' That is a good start, but the road ahead is still a very long one.

Related reports:

Economic opportunity is the cornerstone to French integration

Francois Hollande’s reforms fail to give French economy the kiss of life

EU and its members are paying the price of past neglect

Lack of reform threatens France and Europe


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