Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With many new programs only just beginning to bear financial fruit, France falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 19) in terms of economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.8 points relative to 2014.

The government has launched a highly ambitious set of economic reforms over the last 18 months, 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.

Unemployment rates are falling, but remain high. Unskilled jobs are increasingly being filled by migrants. Labor-market measures have focused on improving job qualifications for the long-term unemployed. The government’s response to the “yellow vests” protests resulted in extra social program spending.

Many individual and company taxes have been raised, but the overall tax ratio has remained relatively constant due to social contributions. 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, 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. Beginning in 2019, nursery schooling will be mandatory from the age of three.

With education outcomes closely tied to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, the Macron administration has sought to improve education quality for less-affluent students. A controversial policy of evaluating teachers and schools is becoming normal practice. The high-quality health care system is accessible to all residents.

Reforms have improved the pension system’s sustainability. Some pensioner benefits have been reduced in order to increase workers’ incomes. 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

As a key international voice on the issue of climate change, France scores relatively well (rank 10) with regard to environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 1.0 point relative to 2014.

While being extremely active at the international level, the government has found it difficult to reach domestic targets, in large part due to powerful lobbying interests. A decision to raise taxes on petrol and diesel beginning in 2019 provoked the “yellow vests” riots 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.

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.



Quality of Democracy

Despite its free and fair electoral processes, France’s democracy receives only a lower-middle ranking (rank 23) 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. Before appointment, all ministers are now subject to screening by an independent financial-transparency authority.

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

As the Macron administration acts with more discipline than predecessors, France falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 14) in terms of executive capacity. Its score in this area has improved by 0.3 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 and policy-evaluation body.

The Macron administration initially sought intensive public consultations while still making decisions in a top-down manner. Following strong criticism and the eruption of the “yellow vests” protests, it is now proceeding more cautiously. A distrust of the media and a lack of ministerial coordination has led to poor public-communication capabilities.

Despite its reactions to the “yellow vests,” the current government has generally shown more courage than predecessors in pushing through and implementing policies and regulations that have sparked protest. The administration has an avowedly pro-EU and global approach, but Macron has found it difficult to win support from elsewhere in the EU for his reform plans.

Executive Accountability

Despite comparatively strong legislative oversight powers, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 24) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.2 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive. A pending Macron proposal would reduce the number of legislators by one-third, which critics say would undermine representation quality. A Court of Accounts effectively plays an auditor’s role, 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. Macron’s efforts to communicate his policies more openly than predecessors have been criticized as being arrogant.

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. Business, agricultural and educational associations are influential, but traditional trade unions are fragmented, with some highly resistant to change. Only a few non-business organizations make relevant and credible proposals.
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