Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With significant progress evident, France falls into the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 23) in terms of economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

A more forgiving international environment, the delayed effects of past policies, and the significant policy changes being implemented by the Macron government have brightened France’s economic prospects. Growth has picked up, though the absolute level remains low. The still-high unemployment rate is dropping, though slowly.

The previous administration’s halfhearted labor and tax reforms are having some beneficial effects. Macron’s government has introduced significantly more flexibility into the labor market, continued the previous corporate tax cuts, and proposed a considerably simplified system of reduced taxes and social contributions. These measures have drawn strong protests from unions.

The new administration has also vowed to abide by the EU’s 3% budget-deficit ceiling. The country’s current expenditure and debt levels remain high, with structural changes necessary to shift direction. Innovation policy has been a bright spot in recent years, with an additional €50 billion being earmarked for this area over the next five years.

Social Policies

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.

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 0.5 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. 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.

The Volkswagen scandal prompted the government to end long-standing tax benefits for diesel engines. Water-quality goals have been undermined by the powerful agricultural lobby, and pesticide use has risen sharply in recent years. 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, and Macron has fully endorsed his predecessor’s policy choices in this area.



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 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Broad campaign-financing rules have been tightened, but loopholes and violations have led to recurrent funding scandals. Following a public-money scandal that pushed a front-runner out of the presidential race, Macron’s government introduced promising new conflict-of-interest laws.

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. 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.



Executive Capacity

With the Macron administration bringing about significant improvements, France receives high rankings (rank 11) in terms of executive capacity. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points since 2014.

The Hollande administration’s hesitations have been replaced by an energetic, decisive government under Macron. The powerful presidential and prime ministerial offices continue to supervise and control policymaking and interministerial coordination, but cabinet and communication cohesion have improved significantly.

New policy directions have been largely been communicated clearly. The new administration consults intensely with stakeholders, but leaves little room for change once a proposal has been drafted. Ministry monitoring is rigorous.

The defeat of the traditional parties has changed the political landscape, with Macron depending on support from parliamentarians from outside the older parties. The administration has an avowedly pro-EU and global approach, with strong domestic reform ambitions that have yet to be fully tested.

Executive Accountability

Despite comparatively strong legislative oversight powers, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive. A new law forbids lawmakers to hold simultaneous national and local or regional positions, potentially improving oversight capabilities. 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. High-quality newspapers are showing circulation declines. Macron’s approach of openly identifying public-policy problems and reforms may help improve the quality of public debate.

The main traditional political parties were devastated by their loss in the most recent elections, while Macron’s movement remains centered on his own person. 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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