At rank 19, France’s status performance is slipping (-1 rank relative to SGI 2009).
Problems are mounting rather than diminishing. Public demand for fundamental political, economical and social reforms is on the rise. At the same time, the government’s capacity to undergo systemic reform appears beleagured.
High hopes in May 2007 that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy would usher in substantial change have been dashed. The president’s controversial leadership style has enhanced rather than combat impressions of a strict top-down hierarchy in French reform policy in the last three years.
France’s overall quality of democracy is below the OECD average (rank 20).
The electoral process is fair at all levels. Public authorities usually act in line with the existing legal framework.
In principle, media independence from public authorities is guaranteed by a complete set of constitutional, legislative and administrative rules. However, there are structural weaknesses in the media system allowing government influence through several channels.
There are solid legal provisions protecting civil rights and political liberties. Strong measures against discrimination are also in place, but many immigrants face discrimination with respect to housing and work.
At rank 26, France suffers severe shortcomings in economic policy.
President Sarkozy’s reforms have had limited effects. Contrary to his campaign promise, the state’s role in the economy has increased. Public debt and unemployment have peaked as the trade balance and industrial basis have deteriorated.
Despite high levels of spending and an impressive number of measures, labor market policy has yielded disappointing results.
The level of taxes and social contributions is one of the highest within the OECD. The social welfare system is in need of an overhaul, but high political costs deter governments from doing more than introducing slight adjustments.
Falling again at rank 16, France’s social affairs rating is buoyed by a strong concern for families.
The country’s health care system offers high-quality and inclusive care, but cost efficiency and deficit containment are outstanding problems.
By international and European standards, the French welfare state is very generous, keeping poverty at a comparatively low level. Nonetheless, high and long-lasting benefits create negative employment incentives.
The country’s highly developed family policy system of parenting benefits and child-care facilities, particularly combined with other social security elements such as social housing, contribute to the effective prevention of child poverty.
External security in France is based on active diplomacy and a comprehensive foreign policy in world affairs. Substantial budgetary efforts have targeted combining the buildup of a nuclear force and an intervention capacity abroad, particularly in Africa. In 2009, after more than 40 years, France was reintegrated in the NATO.
Domestic security policy protects citizens. Repeated outbreaks of urban violence have attracted considerable attention, though the roots of this violence lie in socioeconomic inequalities. Such events are increasingly the subject of partisan rancor.
With a gain of six ranks relative to the SGI 2009 (to rank 9), France has made notable strides in terms of resource sustainability.
Environmental performance is mediocre. France’s comparatively low CO2 emissions are due to the importance of nuclear power, while other environmental fields such as energy conservation have been neglected.
Research and innovation policies are rather good, however. Since 2007, the government has implemented several measures aimed at facilitating and promoting innovation.
Education is centralized and mainly state-run. French students score well in the PISA study. Spending on preschool level facilities is exemplary, and remains above the OECD average at the primary level.