Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With a somewhat chaotic approach to structural reform, France falls into the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 28) in terms of economic policies. Its score in this area has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The country faces acute structural problems, including a rigid labor market, political gridlock, growing debt and a lack of competitiveness. Reforms have moved in the right direction, but slowly and without consistency. A critical new labor law passed in 2016 was diluted following public protests from unions and left-leaning Socialist Party forces.

While unemployment has declined, rates remain high overall. Youth unemployment is a particular problem, and citizens with immigrant backgrounds have severe difficulties in the job market. Efforts to increase labor-market flexibility have been both insufficient and controversial.

Start-and-stop reforms of the complex tax system, which features very high tax rates, have failed to balance budgets or improve competitiveness. The Hollande government ultimately focused on tax increases rather than spending cuts. Dynamic new technology start-ups are breathing new life into the business sector, though future growth capacity remains in question.

Social Policies

With a well-developed but costly welfare state, France’s social policies fall into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) internationally. Its score in this area has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Welfare benefits are substantial, generally preventing poverty. However, immigrants and their families are often marginalized. Child care and parental-leave benefits are generous, and women’s labor-force participation rates are high. Child allowances have been subjected to an income test. Education quality is generally good, but equality of access is a problem for working-class and immigrant students.

The high-quality health care system is accessible to all residents. After years of rising health-system deficits, cost-control measures have finally produced a small decline. Reforms have improved the pension system’s sustainability, though some remain contested.

The terrorism-related state of emergency was extended until 2017 following the 2016 Nice attack. Demonstrations and social violence are creating rising tensions with and within the police forces. Social conditions are continuing to deteriorate in suburbs with heavily migrant populations.

Environmental Policies

Despite a mixed record on energy and emissions, France scores relatively well (rank 12) with regard to environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

The country has a good record on carbon emissions overall, but this is largely due to strong dependence on an aging nuclear-energy sector. A recently passed energy-transition bill foresees reduction of the nuclear-power generation share from 75% to 50% by 2025, accompanied by a strong increase in renewables; however, bureaucratic hurdles make attaining this goal unlikely.

Powerful business lobbies have prevented the passage of stronger environmental policies both regionally and nationally, while administrative structures often slow implementation. The Volkswagen scandal finally induced the government to remove tax preferences for diesel fuel. Air-quality and waste-management efforts trail behind other European nations.

While active in international environmental forums, the country also protects domestic interests such as the nuclear-power industry. The country played a crucial role in securing international agreement at the 2015 UN climate-change conference.



Quality of Democracy

Despite its free and fair electoral processes, France’s democracy receives only a lower-middle ranking (rank 24) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Broad campaign-financing rules have been tightened further, but loopholes and violations have led to recurrent funding scandals. Media independence is legally guaranteed, but somewhat tainted by government subsidies and corporate ownership. While ties between political and business elites and the major media undermine pluralism, the rise of the online sector is improving the situation.

Civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected, though women, immigrants and the poor face some de facto discrimination. Despite civil-rights fears following the state of emergency declared in 2015 and extended through 2017, infringements have been limited, with robust court oversight. The police and right-wing parties have called for further restrictions on the rights of terror suspects.

Some legal uncertainty is produced by frequent legislative and fiscal reversals and broad bureaucratic discretion. Corruption continues to be a concern, but the legal anti-corruption framework has been strengthened.



Executive Capacity

With a lackluster end to the Hollande administration’s period in office, France receives middling scores in international comparison (rank 21) in terms of executive capacity. Its score in this area has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

Despite some improvements in the Hollande government’s initial lack of political and administrative coordination, the administration was characterized by hesitation and vagueness throughout, with its final months dominated by short-term decision making. The powerful presidential and prime ministerial offices supervise and control policymaking and interministerial coordination.

Policymaking under Hollande was subject to reversals in a number of key areas. Public demonstrations led to policy dilutions. A government think tank has been charged with evaluating policy impacts, potentially improving the RIA process, but decisions often remain driven by political concerns.

Badly managed communication had tremendously negative effects on the government’s credibility. By taking on many financial commitments with delayed impact, Hollande’s government passed on potential challenges to its successor. A regional-structure reform has given regions new financial flexibility.

Executive Accountability

Despite comparatively strong legislative oversight powers, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 27) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive, although the congruence between committees and ministries is poor. A Court of Accounts serves an increasingly effective auditor’s role when requested to do so by the parliament.

Citizens’ policy knowledge is deemed relatively poor, in part due to often-superficial television programming. Polls indicate that citizens are aware of the need for reform, but reluctant to accept change when their issues are at stake. High-quality newspapers are showing circulation declines.

A recently created primary process has weakened but significantly democratized the major political-party organizations. Business, agricultural and educational associations are influential, but traditional trade unions are fragmented and resistant to change. Only a few non-business organizations make relevant and credible proposals.
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