France

   

Social Policies

#14
Key Findings
With a well-developed but costly welfare state, France’s social policies fall into the upper-middle ranks (rank 14) internationally. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to 2014.

Welfare benefits are substantial, generally preventing poverty. However, immigrants and their families are often marginalized, with integration proving difficult even in the second and third generations. 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.

With education outcomes closely tied to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, the Macron administration is focusing on improving education quality for less-affluent students. The high-quality health care system is accessible to all residents.

Reforms have improved the pension system’s sustainability, though some remain contested. Macron has announced plans to engage in a more controversial simplification of the system. Many of the strict anti-terrorism policies associated with the post-2015 state of emergency have been integrated into regular law, prompting some fears that judicial control is being weakened.

Education

#19

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
7
The French education system can in many aspects be characterized as rather successful, but, contrary to the past, it fails to integrate and promote the weakest segments of society. In the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, French results were not in progress but slightly above the OECD average. Overall spending on educational institutions amounted to 5.3% of GDP in 2013, slightly above the OECD average. Spending at the preschool level is exemplary, with nearly all children three years old and older attending preschool (écoles maternelles), and France is still above the OECD average at the primary schooling level. An alarming result of the PISA assessment is that, more than in any other OECD country, individual success depends on the socioeconomic background of students. Secondary education is rather good but uneven, excessively costly and, in recent years, has fallen behind other OECD countries. Higher education is dual, with a broad range of excellent elite institutions (prestigious lycées and grandes écoles) and a large mass university system, which is poorly funded and poorly managed, and does not prepare its students well for a successful entry to the labor market. Spending on universities lies below the OECD average. More importantly, drop-out rates are dramatic: only 40% of registered students obtain a university degree.

One major problem concerns professional training. The education to professional training transition has been deficient. Organized by state schools, the system has lacked alternate training in cooperation with businesses, and diplomas are often not accepted by companies. This is a major reason for high youth unemployment in France.

The Macron government is approaching these issues in a different way, but the new policies are still under discussion or preparation. However, several measures adopted over the summer 2017 give some hints about the new approach. First, these measures placed greater an emphasis on training young people from less affluent backgrounds. In places with significant social problems, the government has decided to immediately half the number of students per elementary school class, bringing down the maximum number of students to 12 per class. Second, most of the disputed reforms put in place by the Hollande-Valls government are being dismantled (for instance the “bi-langues” classes have been reintroduced in secondary schools and more emphasis is put on the fundamentals). Third, international evaluations and rankings (such as the Pisa report) have been taken into account and will likely form the basis for further changes. Finally, a far-reaching renewal of the professional training system has been announced.

Citations:
OECD: Education at a glance 2016, Country Note France

Social Inclusion

#12

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
7
By international and European standards, the French welfare state is generous and covers all possible dimensions affecting collective and individual welfare, not only of citizens but also of foreign residents. Poverty remains at a comparatively low level. Therefore, social inclusion in terms related to minimum income, health protection, support to the poor and to families is satisfactory and has permitted that, up to now, the impact of the economic crisis has been less felt in France than in many comparable countries. The challenge for France at a time of economic decline and unemployment is, first, to provide sufficient funding for the costly system without undermining competitiveness with too-high levels of social contributions (which demands an overhaul of the tax and contribution system as a whole); and second, to recalibrate the balance of solidarity and individual responsibility, for instance by introducing more incentives for the jobless to search for employment.

The performance of the welfare state is less convincing when it comes to equal opportunities. The percentage of young people in neither education nor employment is persistently high, pointing to the difficulties in transitioning between the education system and the labor market. Furthermore, some groups or territorial units are discriminated against and marginalized. The so-called second-generation immigrants, especially those living in the suburbs, as well as less vocal groups in declining rural regions feel excluded from broader French society: abandoned to their fate, their situations combine poor education and training, unemployment and poverty. Except for the measures on elementary schools in socially disadvantaged areas, the new administration has not yet tackled these problems and will need more time to do so.

Health

#16

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
7
France has a high-quality health system, which is generous and largely inclusive. Since its inception, it has remained a public system based on a compulsory, uniform insurance for all French citizens, with employers’ and employees’ contributions calculated according to wage levels. Together with widespread complementary insurances, they cover most individual costs. About 10% of GDP is spent on health care, one of the highest ratios in Europe. The health system includes all residents, and also offers services for illegal immigrants and foreigners.

The problem is cost efficiency and the containment of deficits, which have been constant in recent years. Savings have improved recently, but the high level of medication consumption still needs to be tackled with more decisive measures. The lack of doctors in rural areas and in some poor neighborhoods is a growing issue. The unsatisfactory distribution of doctors among regions and medical disciplines would be unbearable without the high contribution of practitioners from foreign countries (Africa, Middle East, Romania). New policies are expected in order to remedy first the deficits and second the “medical desertification.” More generous reimbursements of expenses for glasses and dental care (a traditionally weak point of the system) have been promised by Macron and the new government.

Families

#1

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
10
There is a long and consensual tradition of support for families, going back to the 1930s. The comprehensive policy mix which has developed since then has been successful in providing child care, financial support, parental leave and generous fiscal policies (income is not taxed individually but in each family unit, dividing up the total income by the number of people in a family). In addition, families using the child care support at home benefit from rebates on the social costs involved. These policies have been effective. Not only is the birth rate in France one of the highest in Europe despite a slight fall in 2016, but also the percentage of women integrated in the labor market compares favorably to the European leaders (Scandinavian countries) in this domain. However, faced with the need to reduce the budget deficit, the Hollande government has scuttled the French welfare state’s “principle of universality” (i.e., social benefits for all, related to the number of children per family, without consideration of income and wealth), reducing the child allowance for families over an income ceiling. This highly contested measure has introduced a more realistic approach to policymaking, beyond the legalistic and formalistic principles which have prevailed since the Second World War.

Pensions

#20

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
6
The French pension system is relatively generous, and largely prevents poverty of the elderly. But it is also complex, which is a problem for equity: First, the so-called general regime applies to all private employees and is complemented by additional voluntary systems, in particular in large companies. Second, some professions are affiliated to “special regimes” which are characterized by shorter periods of contribution and higher generosity in pension payments. These systems usually cover employees working in public companies or groups highly subsidized by the public budget (coal mines, public transport, sailors and fishermen, for example). Finally, public servants usually benefit from higher payments as their pension payments are based on their final salary (last six months), and not on an average (e.g., best 25 years). Early retirement remains a common practice. However, the raising of the retirement age to 62 has led to an increase in the effective average age of entry into a pension, calculated as 62.3 years by the national pension insurance organization (2014). The OECD estimates that the age of retirement will further increase following the gradual implementation of the pension reform. An international survey shows that France is the country offering the most generous pensions and that these pensions are paid for a longer period than is the case elsewhere.

In order to assure the sustainability of the pension system, French governments continuously introduced reform measures over the last decade: pension contributions have been raised, the number of years of contribution needed to get a full pension has been risen to 43 years, and the peculiarities or privileges granted to a some professional groups (“special regimes”) have been downsized. However, the Hollande administration partially broke with this trend by introducing the concept of “penibility,” a complex and bureaucratic mechanism allowing workers to enter retirement at age 60 if they fulfill the criteria and measures set up for each industrial or service sector. In addition to its costs, the consequences of this new mechanism were twofold: it introduced further uncertainty about the actual pension age, and it put in place a highly complex and cumbersome system of measuring penibility that the business community, in particular small- and medium-sized companies, reject and refuse to apply.

In the meantime, the first positive effects of the Sarkozy reforms have been felt. In 2015, for the first time, the pension branch of the social security system showed a positive balance, although it is expected that this will not last more than a few years. An agreement between three trade unions and the employers’ association added further adaptations concerning the supplementary pension. The payment of supplementary pensions (which are run jointly by the social partners) will be postponed until the age of 64 for most beneficiaries. The main novelty of this rather complex agreement is that it introduces flexibility in fixing the pension age and actually allows its postponement for most employees in the private sector to the age of 64. Macron has indicated that he will not introduce new reforms concerning the retirement age and the number of years of contribution during his term. Instead, he has suggested changing the method of calculation for pensions by creating a system of credit points accumulated by employees, which will be monetarized at the moment of their retirement. He further declared that he will get rid of the present jungle of social regimes. This will be a daunting task as the foreseen reforms would constitute a frontal attack on the privileges accumulated over time by several groups and professions.

Citations:
OECD: Pensions at a Glance 2017. OECD and G20 Indicators

Integration

#24

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
6
Traditionally, France has an open policy toward immigrants. Every person born in France is considered French, or eligible to obtain French citizenship. Integration policies, in terms of long-term residence permits, access to citizenship and family reunification are open and generous. Presently, the largest share of new legal immigrants is related to the reunification of families. It explains partially the difficulty of integrating new immigrants who often have no skills, no education and do not speak French. Processes of integration have to start from scratch. The characteristics of immigrants moving to France are another problem: most are unskilled and as such, subject to vagaries of the economic crisis, for instance in the construction sector.

The integration of the so-called second (in fact, often the third) generation of immigrants, especially coming from Maghreb countries, is difficult for many reasons: education system failures; community concentration in urban/suburban ghettos; high unemployment; cultural identity issues, practices of job discrimination and so on. Immigration from Eastern Europe, the southern Balkans and, more recently, from the Middle East has become a very sensitive subject exploited by the National Front. The reluctance of the French socialist government to put in place a serious migration policy has been challenged by German Chancellor Merkel’s sudden decision in August 2015 to open the doors to migrants from Syria, forcing the French government to revise its veiled but deliberate policy of restricting entry (low level of asylum admissions, cumbersome and discouraging bureaucratic processes). The number of refugees that have come to France since the summer of 2015 is substantially smaller than in neighboring Germany. The national office on refugees (Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides, Ofpra) reported that 78,000 refugees came to France in 2016, an increase of 27% from 2014.

Integration remains at the heart of French political discourse, but actual policies set up to achieve this aim are notoriously insufficient. The new administration has not yet been active in this field. In September 2017, President Macron declared his intention to review France’s immigration policy, combining measures to improve welcome and integration measures for immigrants and refugees with accelerated procedures for handling the applications for asylum and re-enforced measures for sending back people whose applications are rejected.

Citations:
http://www.lemonde.fr/immigration-et-diversite/article/2016/01/12/la-france-a-accepte-27-de-refugies-de-plus-en-2015_4845698_1654200.html
https://www.lesechos.fr/29/06/2017/lesechos.fr/030417560290_la-france–cinquieme-destination-des-migrants.htm
http://www.lepoint.fr/politique/immigration-emmanuel-macron-definit-une-ligne-ferme-pour-sa-future-loi-05-09-2017-2154778_20.php

Safe Living

#36

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Safe Living Conditions
6
Although the police maintain a reputation for being efficient (sometimes too efficient, as the institution is granted significant powers and discretion vis-à-vis the citizenry), concerns over internal security are high. Attention has focused on repeated outbreaks of urban violence in the suburbs or other areas. Following a rising level of petty crime and several terrorist attacks on French territory and abroad, citizens have been more and more vocal about the need to be better protected by enforcing “law and order” measures. There is a clear relationship between the economic and social crisis and this increasing sense of insecurity. This situation has also had a decisive impact on protest votes in favor of the extreme-right party, the National Front.

The terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 have elevated the topic of security to the top of the political agenda, triggering real concerns as well as political polemics driven by the populist and extreme right. The government has reacted to this with new security measures, issuing a temporary state of emergency, and giving more powers to the executive and police to prevent terrorist acts. The “state of emergency,” which gives extraordinary powers of investigation to the police, was further extended until 1 November 2017 (i.e., nearly two years). Lawyers and courts have emphasized the dangers of a permanent “state of emergency,” which may undermine basic liberties. The government has understood the message and the state of emergency was not extended again – at the price of bringing the controversial rules into the flow of “normal” law with the introduction of an anti-terrorism law in October 2017. The anti-terrorism law signed in October 2017 turned most of the preventive and security measures, which had been applied during the state of emergency, into regular laws. This has re-enforced the government’s capacity to prevent and fight terrorism if circumstances require it, although the weakening of judicial control has been criticized.

Global Inequalities

#9

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
7
France has a long tradition of offering support to poor countries both in terms of financial support and promotion of policies in their favor. However, this should be qualified. First, France is reluctant to consider that free trade is one of the most effective instruments of support. As a consequence, France is often an obstacle to the lowering of tariffs and trade barriers, for instance in agriculture. Second, French aid is concentrated on African countries, where its economic interests have been traditionally strong. The temptation to link aid to imports from the donor country is quite common.

Within the framework of international organizations, France is active but for the above mentioned reasons, its policy preferences are deeply influenced by path dependency, such as colonization and the global network of French-speaking countries.
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