Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Marked by ambitious spending and persistent protest, France falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 18) in terms of economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.8 points relative to 2014.

The government responded to the pandemic with massive deficit-fueled spending, successfully supporting companies and minimizing unemployment increases. GDP plummeted by 9% in 2020. Nonetheless, growth surged back to a 7% rate in 2021, with the economy recovering to precrisis levels by that autumn.

Prior labor-sector reforms had begun taking hold by 2019, but the unemployment rate was still above 8%. After a small bounce in 2020, it returned to near 8.1%, with the number of unfilled jobs at a near-record high. NEET rates remain very high for young adults, however.

Taxes and social contributions are higher in France than anywhere else in the OECD other than Denmark. Public expenditure reached 61.8% of GDP in 2020, with deficits of 9.1% in 2020 and 8.0% in 2021. State debt reached 114.9% of GDP in mid-2021, facilitated by low rates of interest. The recovery programs did contain key measures favoring startups and innovation in general.

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 significantly boosted the number of young people in apprenticeships. 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.

COVID-19 proved a severe test for the healthcare system, with some regions forced to draw on neighboring countries’ help. A staffing crisis is building. The education system performed reasonably well during the pandemic, but fails to integrate and promote disadvantaged populations.

A controversial plan to simplify the overcomplex pension system was delayed by the pandemic. Public expenditure on pensions is very high, and the average age of labor-market exit is low. Right-wing political forces have made immigration and identity issues a sensitive topic. President Macron is leading an effort to increase EU investment in Africa.

Environmental Policies

As a key international voice on the issue of climate change, France falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 6) with regard to environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 1.3 points 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 recent years, in large part due to protests and powerful lobbying interests.

The country has a good record on carbon emissions overall, but this is largely due to strong dependence on nuclear energy. 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 government is now advocating the creation of new small-scale nuclear power plants.

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 citizen initiative has produced recommendations on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that have been submitted to parliament.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

Despite its free and fair electoral processes, France’s democracy receives only a middling ranking (rank 19) 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. A lower court ruled that former President Sarkozy violated campaign spending rules.

Media independence is legally guaranteed, but somewhat tainted by government subsidies and corporate ownership. Most weekly and daily media are owned by moguls wishing to influence public opinion, though 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.

While some liberties were curtailed during the pandemic, fundamental rights remained well protected. Non-discrimination rules are strong, but Muslims immigrants in particular face “invisible discrimination” in the labor market and elsewhere. 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 a number of reforms still underway, France falls into the upper-middle ranks (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. Line ministers have little independent scope of action. 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.

RIAs are mandatory for all policies initiated by the executive, about three-quarters of the whole. There is no systematic obligation to consult stakeholders outside of the environmental realm. Consultations do take place, but are informal. A mutual distrust between Macron and the media has hampered communication, exacerbated by overall public distrust of political elites.

The pandemic forced the government to suspend and withdraw a slate of ambitious reforms. A local tax is being replaced by property taxes transferred from the provinces. A broad-ranging reform of the civil service is underway. France was a driving force in launching the EU’s pandemic recovery fund, which features EU-level borrowing for the first time.

Executive Accountability

Despite strong gains in recent years, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 23) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.3 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive. A Macron proposal that would have reduced the number of legislators by one-third failed. 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 Vest movement prompted a citizen-consultation process for climate policy. However, much of the public prefers protest to participatory methods.

The main traditional political parties are largely hierarchically organized, while Macron’s movement remains centered on his own person without having become a mature party. The government consults with economic organizations, but has rejected negotiated solutions on key issues. Many non-business organizations have enhanced the quality of their policy oversight and advice in recent years.
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