Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Marked by ambitious reforms and persistent protest, France falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 23) in terms of economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.7 points relative to 2014.

President Macron’s administration has pursued an ambitious set of economic reforms, aimed at creating jobs and improving competitiveness while boosting workers incomes. Tax cuts, greater labor-market flexibility and financing aids have improved business investment. Economic growth has been positive but remains somewhat anemic.

The Yellow Vest protests have slowed or postponed some reforms, with the government’s resulting in extra social spending. Unemployment rates are falling, but remain very high, especially among youth. The government rejected a set of unemployment-insurance solutions negotiated by employers and unions, and introduced its own sweeping changes reducing benefits.

Many individual and company taxes have been raised, but the overall tax ratio has remained relatively constant due to social contributions. Taxes and social contributions are in sum very high. Efforts to slow public spending growth have been fiercely criticized by opponents. Commitments to reduce the budget deficit to below 3% have proved difficult to meet.

Social Policies

With a well-developed but costly welfare state, France’s social policies receive high rankings (rank 12) in international comparison. Its score in this area has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Welfare benefits are substantial, generally preventing poverty. However, immigrants and their families are often marginalized. The government has begun to emphasize training and work placement rather than financial support. Child care and parental-leave benefits are generous, and women’s labor-force participation rates are high. Preschool attendance is now mandatory from the age of three.

The system for awarding degrees at the end of secondary school has been revised to become more manageable. A controversial policy of evaluating teachers and schools is becoming normal practice.
The high-quality healthcare system is accessible to all residents, but a plan to form the healthcare system has yet to be implemented.

A plan to drastically simplify the fragmented pension system has triggered fierce opposition and mass mobilization, and remains unimplemented. The process of screening asylum requests has improved, but efforts have also been made to restrict entry. The Yellow Vest protests prompted strong reactions by the government and law enforcement, triggering accusations of overreaction.

Environmental Policies

As a key international voice on the issue of climate change, France scores relatively well (rank 6) with regard to environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 1.3 point relative to 2014.

While extremely active at the international level, the government has found it difficult to reach domestic targets. It has made little progress toward its own climate-change commitments in the last four years, in large part due to powerful lobbying interests. A decision to raise taxes on petrol and diesel beginning in 2019 provoked the Yellow Vest protests in 2018, leading to withdrawal of the decision.

The country has a good record on carbon emissions overall, but this is largely due to strong dependence on an aging nuclear-energy sector. Plans to reduce the nuclear-power generation share from 75% to 50% by 2025, accompanied by a strong increase in renewables, appear unlikely to be realized in full. Coal mines are to be closed by 2022, and oil exploration on French territory has been banned.

Water-quality goals have been undermined by the powerful agricultural lobby, and pesticide use has risen sharply in recent years. The municipal composting, recycling and waste-management sectors trail northern European counterparts. A new citizen initiative will produce recommendations on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, with these to be submitted to parliament or to the people by referendum.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

Despite its free and fair electoral processes, France’s democracy receives only a middling ranking (rank 21) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Broad campaign-financing rules have been tightened, and new conflict-of-interest laws implemented following a series of campaign-financing scandals, but loopholes remain. Before appointment, all ministers are now subject to screening by an independent financial-transparency authority. The Yellow Vest movement has criticized the cumbersome process for organizing referendums.

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. Some legal uncertainty is produced by frequent legislative and fiscal reversals and broad bureaucratic discretion.

Civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected, though women, immigrants and the poor face some de facto discrimination. Many critics argued that repression of the Yellow Vest protests was a disproportionate use of force. The separation of religious and public life is a contested area, with increasingly illiberal attitudes toward non-Christian religious expressions evident in the public sphere.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With the Macron administration acting with more discipline than its predecessors, France scores well (rank 12) in terms of executive capacity. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points since 2014.

The powerful presidential and prime ministerial offices supervise and control policymaking and interministerial coordination. Cabinet and communication cohesion have improved relative to earlier administrations. A think tank connected to the prime minister’s office has developed into a strategic-planning body, while Court of Accounts reports often serve as the starting points for reforms.

The Macron administration has somewhat modified its top-down decision-making style following strong criticism and the eruption of the Yellow Vests protests. A distrust of the media and a lack of ministerial coordination has led to poor public-communication capabilities, exacerbated by the public’s trust of political elites. RIAs are not systematically applied.

Despite some slowdowns following the Yellow Vest protests, Macron’s government has continued to press forward with reforms, with the first positive results now being felt. A regional reform intended to produce efficiencies has in fact led to greater spending. Though it makes ambitious proposals at the EU level, France has often been unable to respect previously adopted common rules.

Executive Accountability

Despite comparatively strong legislative oversight powers, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.1 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive. A pending Macron proposal that would reduce the number of legislators by one-third faces fierce opposition. The Court of Accounts serves as auditor while also making forward-looking proposals, and the country’s active data-protection authority has been in existence for more than 40 years.

While citizens’ interest in politics has been on the decline, social media has provided a venue for activists to attract media and public interest. However, the information shared in such venues is often of very poor quality. The Yellow Vests movement prompted a citizen-consultation process that may help boost consensus and participation.

The main traditional political parties are largely hierarchically organized, while Macron’s movement remains centered on his own person without yet being a mature party. The government consults with economic organizations, but has rejected negotiated solutions on key issues. Only a few non-business organizations make relevant and credible proposals.
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