France

   

Executive Capacity

#12
Key Findings
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.

Strategic Capacity

#27

How much influence do strategic planning units and bodies have on government decision-making?

10
 9

Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions, and they exercise strong influence on government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Their influence on government decision-making is systematic but limited in issue scope or depth of impact.
 5
 4
 3


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Occasionally, they exert some influence on government decision-making.
 2
 1

In practice, there are no units and bodies taking a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions.
Strategic Planning
5
French governments commonly refer to ad hoc committees tasked with providing information on crucial issues. In some cases, a report is requested from a single person. Committee members are mainly high-level civil servants, former or active politicians and academics, and often are chosen on the basis of their sympathy to the government in office at the time. Some reports are made public but others remain unpublished, in particular when the report’s proposals appear too provocative to be accepted by social partners. This situation raises the concern that opportunism may prevail over real strategic planning.

Each minister is entitled to recruit 10 so-called cabinet members, usually young political appointees who are tasked with providing policy advice. However, short-term considerations are usually more important than strategic planning in this regard. In addition, some portfolios have high levels of ministerial turnover of ministers, making long-term planning impossible outside of senior civil servants’ ability to carry through their own bureaucratic agendas.

The only bodies that take a long-term view in terms of strategic planning are bureaucratic departments, such as those in the finance, transport, environment and foreign affairs ministries. The committee of economic advisers attached to the prime minister’s office produces reports on its own initiative or at the office’s request. Its impact on actual policymaking is limited, however. The Court of Accounts, whose reports often serve as the starting point of reforms, is taking on a growing importance with regard to long-term policymaking. Its annual and special reports are attracting increasing attention from public authorities and the media.

France Stratégie, an interesting think tank attached to the prime minister, has recently developed into a body of strategic planning and policy evaluation, although its impact on governmental policy is uncertain for the time being. OECD reports are not part of national strategic planning, but they are rather influential as they compare countries’ performances and capacities to adjust to future challenges.

Does the government regularly take into account advice from non-governmental experts during decision-making?

10
 9

In almost all cases, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


For major political projects, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 2
 1

The government does not consult with non-governmental experts, or existing consultations lack transparency entirely and/or are exclusively pro forma.
Expert Advice
5
In contrast to some other European countries, the French government does not rely heavily on academic advice, even though the President’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office frequently consult economists, and outstanding non-governmental academics may be chosen to sit on national reflection councils covering various policy fields (e.g., integration and education). But the influence of academics is not comparable to what can be found in many other political settings. High-level civil servants tend to consider themselves self-sufficient. Once the government has chosen a policy strategy, it tends to stick to it without significant discussion over the appropriateness or effectiveness of choices made. There is nothing comparable in France to the economic institutes in Germany, for example, the opinions of which serve to guide the government and offer a platform for public debates. One telling example of this indifference to experts was the decision (in reaction to the modest ranking of French universities in international rankings) to merge the universities within individual cities and regions, under the assumption that larger universities would produce better results. This decision was taken in spite of the opposition of the academic community, and against the evidence provided by, for instance, the American and British university systems. Predictably, the results have been rather disappointing, while several bureaucratic monsters have been born.
By contrast, the reform of the pension system currently being debated has been heavily influenced by experts and economists, to such an extent that its radical U-turn in relation to the past is creating political turmoil.

Interministerial Coordination

#12

Does the government office / prime minister’s office (GO / PMO) have the expertise to evaluate ministerial draft bills according to the government’s priorities?

10
 9

The GO / PMO provides regular, independent evaluations of draft bills for the cabinet / prime minister. These assessments are guided exclusively by the government’s priorities.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO evaluates most draft bills according to the government’s priorities.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO can rely on some sectoral policy expertise but does not evaluate draft bills.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not have any sectoral policy expertise. Its role is limited to collecting, registering and circulating documents submitted for cabinet meetings.
GO Expertise
7
There are three main loci of policy coordination once a policy proposal has been forwarded to the prime minister. The first is the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the second is the President’s Office, and the third, in cases of legislation or regulation, the Council of State. This hierarchical organization gives the prime minister the option of modifying ministers’ draft bills. For important issues, this steering function is shared with the President’s Office, and entails strong cooperation and collaboration between the two secretaries-general at the Élysée and Matignon. Both the president and the prime minister appoint civil servants from all ministries as sectoral policy advisers. All ministerial domains are covered in this regard. Several hundred people are involved in government steering, monitoring, oversight and advising functions.

However, it would probably be overstated to consider these various checks a method of evaluation. The PMO mainly coordinates and arbitrates between ministries, takes into consideration opinions and criticisms from involved interests and from the majority coalition, and balances political benefits and risks. The President’s Office does more or less the same in coordination with the PMO. President Macron pays particular care and attention to the fit between proposals and political commitments made during his electoral campaign. More than offering a thorough policy evaluation, these two institutions serve as a place where the ultimate arbitrations between bureaucrats, party activists and vested interests are made.

To what extent do line ministries involve the government office/prime minister’s office in the preparation of policy proposals?

10
 9

There are inter-related capacities for coordination between GO/PMO and line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO/PMO is regularly briefed on new developments affecting the preparation of policy proposals.
 5
 4
 3


Consultation is rather formal and focuses on technical and drafting issues.
 2
 1

Consultation occurs only after proposals are fully drafted as laws.
Line Ministries
9
Line ministers have to inform the prime minister of all their projects. Strong discipline is imposed even at the level of public communication level, and this rule is reinforced by the attitude of the media, which tend to cover any slight policy difference as the expression of political tension or party divergence. Not only the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) oversees the policy process but also his cabinet assistants, in each area, supervise, liaise and coordinate with their counterparts in line ministries about the content, timing and political sequences of a project. The secretary-general of the PMO (as well as his counterpart at the Élysée) operates in the shadow, but he is one of the most powerful actors within that machinery. He can step in if the coordination or control process at that level has failed to stem the expression of differences within the government. Traditionally the secretary-general is a member of the Conseil d’État and – in spite of the fact that he could be fired at any time for any reason – there is a tradition of continuity and stability beyond the fluctuation and vagaries of political life. It has to be added that given the presidential character of the Fifth Republic, the same type of control is exerted by the President’s Office in coordination with the PMO. In practice, the two general secretaries are the most powerful civil servants whose opinions might prevail on ministry choices.

How effectively do ministerial or cabinet committees coordinate cabinet proposals?

10
 9

The vast majority of cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated first by committees.
 8
 7
 6


Most cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated by committees, in particular proposals of political or strategic importance.
 5
 4
 3


There is little review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees.
 2
 1

There is no review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees. Or: There is no ministerial or cabinet committee.
Cabinet Committees
8
Coordination is strong across the French government, and is in the hands of the PMO and the President’s Office, which liaise constantly and make decisions on every issue. Coordination takes place at several levels. First at the level of specialized civil servants who work as political appointees in the PMO (members of the cabinet, that is political appointees belonging to the staff of the prime minister), then in meetings chaired by the secretary-general and finally by the prime minister himself, in case of permanent conflicts between ministers or over important issues. In many instances, conflicts place the powerful budget minister or minister of finance in opposition to other ministries. Appeals to the prime minister require either a powerful convincing argument or that the appealing party is a key member of the government coalition, as it is understood that the prime minister should not be bothered by anything but the highest-level issues. A powerful instrument in the hands of the prime minister is his capacity to decide which texts will be presented to the parliament with priority. Given the frequent bottlenecks in the process, ministerial bills can end up indefinitely postponed.

The council of ministers takes place once a week. There are also a large number of interministerial committees chaired by the prime minister or the president. Most of these committees meet upon request. While plenty of them hold meetings every week, these are usually attended by the ministers dealing with the topics discussed, and include only the ministers and secretaries of state involved. In some cases, these meetings might be chaired by the secretary-general of either the President’s Office or the Prime Minister’s Office, two prestigious and powerful high civil servants who respectively serve as the voices of the president and prime minister.

In 2017, the new government introduced the practice of government seminars with the aim of improving cohesion and harmonization. The team spirit seems to have improved considerably in comparison with the past, given that many ministers are not professional politicians.

How effectively do ministry officials/civil servants coordinate policy proposals?

10
 9

Most policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 8
 7
 6


Many policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 5
 4
 3


There is some coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
 2
 1

There is no or hardly any coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
Ministerial Bureaucracy
8
If a ministry wishes to get its proposals accepted or passed, it must liaise and coordinate with other ministries or agencies involved. For instance, the Macron Law on the economy (2015) had to be co-signed by 13 ministers. In case this consultation has not taken place, objections expressed by other ministers or by the Council of State might deliver a fatal blow to a proposal. All ministries are equal, but some are more equal than others: for example, the finance minister is a crucial, omnipresent and indispensable actor. Usually the coordination and consultation process is placed under the responsibility of a “rapporteur,” usually a lawyer from the ministry bureaucracy (who is also in charge of arguing and defending the draft bill before the Council of State, whose intervention is crucial even beyond the purely legal point of view). The dossier is always followed by a member of the minister’s staff who communicates with his/her counterparts and tries to smooth the process as much as possible. In the most difficult cases (when ministers back up strongly the positions of their respective civil servants), the prime minister has to step in and settle the matter. In contrast to Germany, for instance, sectoral ministers have a limited margin of maneuver.

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination?

10
 9

Informal coordination mechanisms generally support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


In most cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

Informal coordination mechanisms tend to undermine rather than complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
Informal Coordination
8
A crucial factor and essentially an invisible coordination mechanism is the “old-boy network” of former students from the “grandes écoles” (École nationale d’administration (ENA), École Polytechnique, Mines, ParisTech, etc.) or membership in the same “grands corps” (prestigious bureaucracies such as Inspection générale des Finances, Diplomatie, Conseil d’Etat and so on). Most ministries (except perhaps the least powerful or those considered as marginal) include one or several persons from this high civil servant super-elite who know each other or are bound by an informal solidarity. These high civil servants (especially “énarques” from ENA) also work in the PMO or the president’s office, further strengthening this informal connection. The system is both efficient and not transparent, from a procedural point of view. It is striking, for instance, how much former President Hollande relied on people who were trained with him at ENA, and to whom he offered key positions in the political administration – ranging from ministerial positions or the chair of the central bank to many other high offices. President Macron has maintained these informal links.

How extensively and effectively are digital technologies used to support interministerial coordination (in policy development and monitoring)?

10
 9

The government uses digital technologies extensively and effectively to support interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


The government uses digital technologies in most cases and somewhat effectively to support interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


The government uses digital technologies to a lesser degree and with limited effects to support interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

The government makes no substantial use of digital technologies to support interministerial coordination.
Digitalization for Interministerial C.
6
In 2011, an interministerial Directorate for State Information Systems and Communication was established. In 2014, in order to strengthen its capacity to steer and influence the sectoral administrations, the directorate was placed under the authority of the prime minister. A further impulse has been given to the directorate by the Macron administration’s emphasis on the dimensions of the technological revolution. A secretariat of state was created in May 2018 (Secrétariat d’État au Numérique) tasked with boosting initiatives and development in the private and public sector and setting up a 100% state digital platform by 2022. Similarly, the president’s economic adviser was asked to present proposals on how to spend the €55 billion Investments of the Future fund. The president’s adviser suggested allocating nearly €10 billion to the digitalization of public services (with half of this sum for the healthcare system). In parallel, a report of the Court of Accounts, in support of past actions, recommended a major effort to improve investment and personnel training. The new secretariat is building on these actions with the view of providing users with a single number that would provide access to all public services. Several experiences have already been quite successful. For example, the digitalization of tax declarations, processes and payments has been so successful that for most taxpayers the use of printed documents is no longer possible. Various efforts to improve coordination between administrations have been implemented. For instance, public procurement processes, which involve several administrations, have been streamlined, and private companies can access the system using their registration number. While there is a lack of systematic international comparisons, it seems that France currently has less invested than the United Kingdom and Germany in digitalization, and the process in some sectors (e.g., the management of Defense Ministry staff) has suffered major failings in past years.

Evidence-based Instruments

#26

To what extent does the government assess the potential impacts of existing and prepared legal acts (regulatory impact assessments, RIA)?

10
 9

RIA are applied to all new regulations and to existing regulations which are characterized by complex impact paths. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 8
 7
 6


RIA are applied systematically to most new regulations. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 5
 4
 3


RIA are applied in some cases. There is no common RIA methodology guaranteeing common minimum standards.
 2
 1

RIA are not applied or do not exist.
RIA Application
5
The practice of compiling regulatory impact assessments (RIAs) has been followed since 1995, notably under the supervision of the PMO. However, there is still no systematic RIA process with comparable rules and methodologies; this is just one reason why there is an excess of legislation with an insufficient analysis of regulatory impact. There are partial substitutes, however. The finance and budget ministries try to systematically evaluate the fiscal impact of any new measure. This evaluation might be biased, however, as considerations may be exclusively motivated by financial and budgetary concerns. In some ministries (such as industry, agriculture and social affairs) there is also a tradition of analyzing the impact of planned policies. In other sectors, the law might impose these assessments (such as with the environmental and industry ministries, for instance). A legal assessment is systematically practiced by the Conseil d’Etat before the adoption of a regulation or governmental bill. Parliamentary committees also often do an excellent job of regulatory assessment.
More recently, the government think tank France Stratégie has been charged with evaluating the impact of public policies (i.e., the impact of the Macron law, innovation policy or business subsidies). The think tank has published methodological guidelines for the evaluation of public policies. However, last-minute amendments to parliamentary bills tend not to be subject to this type of evaluation. This necessitates frequent post facto modifications to legislation, as unexpected or collateral effects have not been properly anticipated.
What is lacking is a systematic examination involving all the main stakeholders. Former President Sarkozy, seeking to reduce bureaucratic costs, instituted the so-called RGPP (Revue Générale des Politiques Publiques). This allowed around 100,000 positions to be cut, but the process was strongly criticized by the opposition and by the unions. President Hollande decided to move to another type of review (Modernisation de l’Action Publique), but changed little in the administrative apparatus aside reducing the number of regions from 22 to 13 (a measure that generated costs rather than the expected savings). For his part, President Macron launched the CAP22 program, asking an independent expert committee to submit proposals for comprehensive state reform. However, the committee’s report has not been published, and the government has failed to follow its main recommendations for fear of trade-union mobilization and strikes in the public sector

Does the RIA process ensure participation, transparency and quality evaluation?

10
 9

RIA analyses consistently involve stakeholders by means of consultation or collaboration, results are transparently communicated to the public and assessments are effectively evaluated by an independent body on a regular basis.
 8
 7
 6


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to one of the three objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to two of the three objectives.
 2
 1

RIA analyses do not exist or the RIA process fails to achieve any of the three objectives of process quality.
Quality of RIA Process
4
Studies analyzing the impact of RIA have stated that although administrative bodies’ have overcome their initial skepticism toward RIA, the content of assessments has been too general, and has often tended to justify the need for action rather than attempting a critical, well-grounded assessment. In addition, there are few international comparisons when examining possible alternatives. The assessments are conducted by stakeholders that are typically fighting for or against a given policy measure. Thus, such assessments in general have little to recommend them. It remains to be seen whether the recommendations for conducting independent assessment by the think tank France Stratégie will be followed. A more thorough analysis (“étude d’impact”) is done in case of large public investments (rail lines, highways, airports etc.), and the final decision as well as the process is subject to judicial oversight. Too often the experts in charge of evaluating are chosen ad personam and in a discretionary fashion. The hidden purpose and expectations are that their assessment will be in line with the preferences of the politicians in charge. A comparative study of RIA practices over the last 20 years confirms France’s rather poor ranking, and suggests that this is attributable to the lack of an RIA culture, insufficient training for administrative elites, a lack of political will and the feeble role of parliament in RIA matters.

Citations:
France Stratégie: Comment évaluer l’impact des politiques publiques? Document de travail, 16 September 2016
(http://www.strategie.gouv.fr/publications/evaluer-limpact-politiques-publiques)
France Stratégie: Vingt ans d’évaluations d’impact en France et en étranger. Analyse quantitative de la production scientifique, Paris, December 2018 (https://www.strategie.gouv.fr/sites/strategie.gouv.fr/files/atoms/files/fs-dt-impact-politiques-publiques-decembre-2018.pdf)

Does the government conduct effective sustainability checks within the framework of RIA?

10
 9

Sustainability checks are an integral part of every RIA; they draw on an exhaustive set of indicators (including social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability) and track impacts from the short- to long-term.
 8
 7
 6


Sustainability checks lack one of the three criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Sustainability checks lack two of the three criteria.
 2
 1

Sustainability checks do not exist or lack all three criteria.
Sustainability Check
3
There is no real systematic sustainability strategy except in those cases where EU regulations require such an examination. In most instances, political jockeying tends to prevail over policy analysis. In many instances, decisions are mainly based on political arguments regardless of social, financial or environmental costs. The sustainability argument is mainly used by opponents of a policy or envisaged equipment (the Nantes airport is a clear example of this). Given that every government attempts to pass as many measures in as short a period of time as possible, any preliminary evaluation tends to be regarded as a loss of time, since the crucial variable is the ability to respond swiftly to the pressure of public opinion. This strategy often appears to be misguided. Indeed, since opponents are unable to make their voice heard, they tend to rely either on judicial remedies (potentially delaying projects for many years) or on violent protest. Radical environmental activists, for instance, have become a major impediment to many public and private projects.

To what extent do government ministries regularly evaluate the effectiveness and/or efficiency of public policies and use results of evaluations for the revision of existing policies or development of new policies?

10
 9

Ex post evaluations are carried out for all significant policies and are generally used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 8
 7
 6


Ex post evaluations are carried out for most significant policies and are used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 5
 4
 3


Ex post evaluations are rarely carried out for significant policies and are rarely used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 2
 1

Ex post evaluations are generally not carried out and do not play any relevant role for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
Quality of Ex Post Evaluation
7
There is no practice of systematic evaluation, except for policies or laws in which the respective constitutive act stipulates the need for an evaluation. However, over the past 25 years, the Court of Accounts, which previously exerted a legalistic type of oversight, has transformed its mission and adapted its methods so as to evaluate public policies from a political, social, economic and financial point of view. The Court’s reports have become reference documents not only for the political authorities (government and parliament), but also for the opposition, the media and the broader public. The reports are usually characterized by rich analysis and accurate criticisms, and the recommendations are usually well received. The parliament and the government rarely challenge the courts’ conclusions and recommendations, which often become the basis for new legislation. Since Sarkozy’s time in office, the nominee for president of the court has always been a former politician from the opposition (at the time of appointment). This pattern has strengthened the legitimacy of the court, and allowed for the adoption of more policy-oriented evaluations. This dimension is not negatively perceived, as the Court is not seen as biased in its conclusions; indeed, its pragmatic suggestions are seen as useful in the preparation of new legislation.

Societal Consultation

#19

Does the government consult with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner?

10
 9

The government always consults with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner.
 8
 7
 6


The government in most cases consults with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner.
 5
 4
 3


The government does consult with societal actors, but mostly in an unfair and clientelistic manner.
 2
 1

The government rarely consults with any societal actors.
Public Consultation
6
The traditional distrust regarding “lobbyists,” which not seen as legitimate political actors, as well as difficult social relations that hinder effective social dialogue, have limited the governments’ ability to find effective avenues of negotiation and cooperation. There are thousands of official or semi-official commissions that are supposed to give opinions on a given issue or area; however, governments tend to prefer negotiations with selected partners, excluding some considered as not being “representative.” Consultations are often rather formal, and interested parties very often have little willingness to seek compromise. For these reasons, the temptation to govern in a top-down manner has always been strong. However, this in turn has in many cases provoked severe, persistent conflicts and protest movements that have ultimately forced the government to abandon its plans. Indeed, the French political culture is rooted more deeply in protest than in pragmatic cooperation.

In recent years, governments have sought the consultation of interest groups more systematically, and these practices have partly been adopted as legal obligations. Moreover, the rules of social negotiations have been modernized to encourage social contracts between employers and trade unions. Notably, the Larcher Law of 2007 invited the government to present plans for legislation in social and labor matters to the social partners, and to give the social partners an opportunity to negotiate and agree on possible solutions that could then be transformed into law. Nonetheless, given persistent distrust between the social actors, especially on the part of some unions, progress has been slow. There have been some positive cases, such as the 2013 labor-market reform bill. This measure codified an agreement between three (out of five) trade unions and the employers’ organization. But there have been setbacks, too. The Macron government rejected an agreement between the social partners on reforming the unemployment-insurance system, arguing that did not sufficiently address the program’s financial problems. The organizations protested, but in fact were pleased to avoid the blame for the difficult and unpopular measures.

Thus far, President Macron’s strategy has been to engage in intensive consultations while ensuring that the government and parliament have the final say, and leaving little room for change once a government proposal is drafted. This method was applied to the process of drafting the labor-law reform in 2017. Though intense consultations with the social partners took place in July and August 2017, the ordinances (while taking into account some trade union grievances) were presented to the social partners as non-negotiable once drafted in September 2017. The process of reforming the national railway company followed a similar course. The government presented and passed a bill through parliament, declaring that the core measures were non-negotiable, but offered negotiations for the implementation of the new law. In the end, in spite of four months of protests and strikes, and stalemate between the government and trade unions, the reform was adopted. This situation has left the social partners bitter and frustrated – even those who were willing to accept the reforms, but wanted to be incorporated in the decision-making process (e.g., the largest trade union, CDFT). Based on these and other examples, the president has been accused of sticking to a top-down method, leaving no place for the social partners to argue and obtain amendments. More generally, Macron has been criticized for his solitary approach to decision-making, as well as his contempt for the country’s traditional economic and social actors. Faced with the magnitude of these negative reactions and the impact of the Yellow Vest riots, the government is now proceeding with more care, and has signaled a willingness to be more attentive to popular opinions and demands. The national debate launched by Macron was a first step; however, it remains to be seen whether the president will really engage in more meaningful negotiations with societal organizations. The negotiations over the reform of the pension system, which are due to be concluded in 2020, will be a first test.

Policy Communication

#10

To what extent does the government achieve coherent communication?

10
 9

Ministries are highly successful in aligning their communication with government strategy.
 8
 7
 6


Ministries most of the time are highly successful in aligning their communication with government strategy.
 5
 4
 3


Ministries occasionally issue public statements that contradict the public communication of other ministries or the government strategy.
 2
 1

Strategic communication planning does not exist; individual ministry statements regularly contradict each other. Messages are often not factually consistent with the government’s strategy.
Coherent Communication
7
Government policy communication is usually subject to centralized control by the executive branch. One of the preoccupations of the executive branch is to avoid disagreement or contradiction within the ministerial team, even when coalition governments are in power. There have been situations in which ministers expressing divergent views in the media have been forced to resign.

Hollande’s government communication was poor and messy. In contrast, Macron has defined a new strategy: precise indications about his program during the presidential campaign, a commitment to implement these policy measures fully and speedily, and strict control over communication by the Élysée staff. This has conferred a significantly higher degree of coherence on governmental communication. However, due to a lack of coordination between ministers, the presidential services and the political movement which supports Macron (the REM), this communication policy has displayed flaws in practice, triggering changes in the organization of the Élysée communication unit. The Macron’s distrust of the media has not helped, and the relationship between the media and the President’s Office is far from optimal. The price has been a highly critical press, which tends to compete with social networks, and which has prioritized form and style over substance. As communication is highly centralized and technocratic ministers often neglect the art of communication, the capacity of the executive to communicate with the public has been rather poor. In addition, the public’s overall distrust of political elites makes official communication extremely difficult. The problem is further aggravated by the proliferation of fake news on social networks.

Implementation

#9

To what extent can the government achieve its own policy objectives?

10
 9

The government can largely implement its own policy objectives.
 8
 7
 6


The government is partly successful in implementing its policy objectives or can implement some of its policy objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The government partly fails to implement its objectives or fails to implement several policy objectives.
 2
 1

The government largely fails to implement its policy objectives.
Government Effectiveness
7
The government is efficient in implementing its programs, as it can rely on a relatively disciplined cabinet, an obedient majority and a competent bureaucracy. Resistance, if any, comes from social actors. The question of whether government policies are effective is another matter. One of the major issues that the Hollande government faced was a lack of credibility concerning its commitments to economic growth, unemployment and the reduction of the public deficit. Optimistic forecasts have been disappointed by poor results on all fronts. Most international organizations (the IMF, OECD and the European Union), think tanks or even national organizations (the French central bank, the statistical institute and the Court of Auditors) have pointed out the impossibility of reaching set targets based on overoptimistic data or forecasts. The election of President Macron represented a radical change at the top. The main improvement has come with the Macron government’s ability to combine its policy commitments with intense stakeholder concertation before finalizing legislative proposals. During the first 18 months of his term, this method of policymaking was quite successful. The new administration was very active in adopting and implementing its ambitious and encompassing policy reform agenda. The first positive results in terms of economic policy, growth and unemployment are already being felt. In spite of the Yellow Vest uprising, which forced the government to slow its forward charge somewhat, Macron has continued to pursue his reform agenda, even on very sensitive issues such as reform of the pension system.

To what extent does the organization of government provide mechanisms to ensure that ministers implement the government’s program?

10
 9

The organization of government successfully provides strong mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 8
 7
 6


The organization of government provides some mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 5
 4
 3


The organization of government provides weak mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 2
 1

The organization of government does not provide any mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
Ministerial Compliance
9
Compliance by ministers, when compared internationally, is good, as a minister can be dismissed at any time and without explanation. In the French majority system and in the absence of real coalition governments, the ministers, who are nominated by the president, are largely loyal to him. Together with the effective hierarchical steering of governmental action, ministers have strong incentives to implement the government’s program, following guidelines set up by the president and prime minister. This statement remains true but is highly dependent on the leadership capacities of the president and prime minister. Unlike his predecessor, Macron has made clear that strict compliance is expected from ministers, and there is no doubt that his leadership and policy choices will be supported by ministers who, for most, are not professional politicians.

How effectively does the government office/prime minister’s office monitor line ministry activities with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The GO / PMO effectively monitors the implementation activities of all line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of most line ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of some line ministries.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not monitor the implementation activities of line ministries.
Monitoring Ministries
9
Line ministry activities are generally well monitored, but several factors influence the impact of oversight, including: the strength of the prime minister; the relationship of the minister with the president; the political position of the minister within the majority or as a local notable; media attention; and political pressure. This traditional pattern under the Fifth Republic failed to work during the first 30 months of the Hollande presidency due to the president’s weakness and reluctance to arbiter between ministers and divergent preferences. It was only after the September 2014 crisis and the forced resignation of dissident ministers that Prime Minister Manuel Valls was able to exercise improved oversight of the ministries. The monitoring of ministers by Macron and his prime minister is tighter than it has ever previously been under the Fifth Republic. A special software application has been developed that gives Macron the full information about decisions taken by each minister, allowing him to step in as deemed necessary.

How effectively do federal and subnational ministries monitor the activities of bureaucracies/executive agencies with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The ministries effectively monitor the implementation activities of all bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 8
 7
 6


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of most bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 5
 4
 3


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of some bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 2
 1

The ministries do not monitor the implementation activities of bureaucracies/executive agencies.
Monitoring Agencies|Bureaucracies
7
In a highly centralized system like France’s, the central machinery is unable to monitor the implementation of government policies fully and constantly. Thus, huge sectoral and geographical variations exist. In some areas, decisions are not implemented or instead are badly implemented or flexibly interpreted. For instance, education is one of the most centralized policy fields in France, but implementation varies so starkly that parents have adopted strategies (such as the crucial choice of where to live) to register their children in the “best” schools. Implementing centrally designed policies requires local or regional adaptation of rigid rules that are applicable to all. Even the prefects, supposedly the arm of central government, refer to this practice, as may be witnessed for instance in the absent, or insufficient, implementation of water directives in some regions. Thus, bureaucratic rules are rendered somewhat less rigid by a certain political flexibility.

To what extent does the central government ensure that tasks delegated to subnational self-governments are adequately funded?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to fulfill all their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 8
 7
 6


The central government enables subnational governments to fulfill most of their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 5
 4
 3


The central government sometimes and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational governments.
 2
 1

The central government often and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational self-governments.
Task Funding
7
Over the past 30 to 40 years, the powers of communes, provinces (départements) and regions, delegated by central authorities or de facto taken over by local entities, have increased considerably. Normally a delegation of powers was accompanied by corresponding funding. However, as formerly centralized policies were notably badly managed or insufficiently funded, local units had to face huge expenditure increases that were not fully covered by the central government. Thus, more than two-thirds of non-military public monies are spent by local/regional actors, a figure comparable to the situation in federal political systems. While local authorities in theory act as agents of the central government in some areas, they in fact have substantial autonomy. The recent regional reform reducing the number of regions from 22 to 13 has had quite an important consequence: the new regions will benefit from a fraction of the VAT. Previously, they did not receive their own tax revenues, depending instead on transfers from the central government. The goal of the merger was to generate efficiencies and thus save on resources. However, a recent Court of Accounts report shows that the new consolidated regions in aggregate spend more than those which were not combined.

On the other hand, piecemeal and ad hoc local taxation reforms, such as the elimination of the local business tax (taxe professionnelle) and its compensation by national state allocations in 2009, have not improved the situation. Growing tension between the central government and local authorities has been fueled by President Macron’s decision to exempt all local taxpayers from paying (by 2022) the “taxe d’habitation” (a rather unfair tax paid by all local residents, owners and tenants). The local tax will be replaced by property-tax revenues that currently go to the provinces, while the provinces will benefit from a new tax or transfer, the details of which were still to be decided as of the time of writing. The various levels of local government fear that they will lose resources, with the uncertainty contributing to discontent and protest. Moreover, local authorities fear that the state subsidies or new taxes will not evolve over time according to needs. Finally, further cuts have been imposed, forcing local authorities to consolidate budgetary policies. The government has passed a law obliging local authorities to apply the 35-hour working week regulation, as many local governments had offered even further reductions of weekly working times in concession to the unions. The expected savings from this change are said to correspond to 30,000 jobs (though this is probably an overoptimistic estimate).

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments may use their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 8
 7
 6


Central government policies inadvertently limit the subnational self-governments’ scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 5
 4
 3


The central government formally respects the constitutional autonomy of subnational self-governments, but de facto narrows their scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 2
 1

The central government deliberately precludes subnational self-governments from making use of their constitutionally provided implementation autonomy.
Constitutional Discretion
6
Some instances of recentralization have occurred through fiscal or administrative means, but despite the usual stereotypes about French hyper-centralization, it is fair to say that subnational government enjoys much freedom of maneuver. Legally, subnational government is subordinate. Politically, the influence of local elites in parliament and in particular in the Senate has been decisive. However, this is less true in the National Assembly due to the fact that the majority of the new deputies elected in 2017 have no local experience or responsibility. The most efficient but contested instruments of control derive from the legal, technical or economic standards imposed by the Brussels and Paris bureaucracies. Violating such standards can involve high political, monetary and legal/judicial costs for local politicians. As local taxes and spending have grown beyond control over the past 30 years, and the myriad of local units make the steering of policymaking difficult, the central government has failed to find any tools more effective than cutting central government funding in order to force local authorities to reduce their spending. “Contracts” determining spending were signed with most of the large local units in 2018.

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services?

10
 9

Central government effectively ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 8
 7
 6


Central government largely ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 5
 4
 3


Central government ensures that subnational self-governments realize national minimum standards of public services.
 2
 1

Central government does not ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
National Standards
9
Policymakers in France share a common interest in ensuring national cohesion. This is the basis for a large number of national standards and rules that frame local and regional policies. National standards are determined by national regulations and constitutional and administrative courts serve as arbiters in disputes over whether these standards are met. The application of national standards is facilitated by the fact that most public utilities are provided by large private or semi-public companies with a vested interest in having the same rules and standards across the country. Services such as energy supply, water distribution or garbage collection are run by many different companies, most of which belong to two or three holding companies. Following protests by businesses and local politicians against a flood of norms and standards, the government has started a review and implemented a number of “simplification” measures, in particular for small communes. However, no significant results have as yet been observed, with the exception of the construction sector, where norms have been simplified after the initial imposition of extremely cumbersome rules and standards. But the French state is as yet unable to control the full implementation of these standards effectively.

To what extent is government enforcing regulations in an effective and unbiased way, also against vested interests?

10
 9

Government agencies enforce regulations effectively and without bias.
 8
 7
 6


Government agencies, for the most part, enforce regulations effectively and without bias.
 5
 4
 3


Government agencies enforce regulations, but ineffectively and with bias.
 2
 1

Government agencies enforce regulations ineffectively, inconsistently and with bias.
Regulatory Enforcement
7
The French government’s efforts to adopt rules and regulations applicable across the country encounters resistance due to the diversity of local situations and the relative strength of vested interests. The difficult exercise of balancing conflicting goals has characterized France since the time of the monarchy.
During the Fifth Republic, there have been limited cases of political bias or clientelistic behavior within the central administrative apparatus. This is less evident at the local level, where mayors can be more lenient vis-à-vis individuals or groups, for instance in the field of urban planning or in the management of procurement contracts (favoring local providers). The main distortions in policy implementation derive from a well-rooted tradition of ignoring the incomplete implementation or non-application of excessive regulations. Governments often lack the courage to enforce regulations when they fear substantial protests. Successive governments have either failed to regulate or withdrawn planned regulations when protests have proved powerful and won widespread public support. Macron’s insistence on the need to fully implement policy decisions helped trigger a social revolt during the winter of 2018 – 2019. Like his predecessors, he too has been forced to withdraw or postpone some of his unpopular decisions.

Adaptability

#4

To what extent does the government respond to international and supranational developments by adapting domestic government structures?

10
 9

The government has appropriately and effectively adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 8
 7
 6


In many cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 2
 1

The government has not adapted domestic government structures, no matter how beneficial adaptation might be.
Domestic Adaptability
8
The French government has a good track record in adapting national institutions to European and international challenges. This can be attributed to the bureaucratic elite’s awareness of international issues. This contrasts vividly with the government parties’ weakened ability to adapt national policies to the challenges stemming from the globalization of the economy, as there is often fierce resistance from trade unions, most political parties and public opinion at large. The collapse of the fragile party-government system in 2017 has radically transformed the political landscape. New parliamentarians, mostly selected from outside the traditional political party framework, fully support Macron’s new vision. Macron’s declared European and global approach is a radical departure from the past orientations of either the right or the left. However, this French U-turn coincides with a crisis in European and global multilateral institutions, which are being challenged by populist governments and movements around the world. To date, few innovative initiatives have been successful, and in many cases their content has been watered down.

To what extent is the government able to collaborate effectively with international efforts to foster global public goods?

10
 9

The government can take a leading role in shaping and implementing collective efforts to provide global public goods. It is able to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
 8
 7
 6


The government is largely able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Existing processes enabling the government to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress are, for the most part, effective.
 5
 4
 3


The government is partially able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Processes designed to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress show deficiencies.
 2
 1

The government does not have sufficient institutional capacities to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. It does not have effective processes to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
International Coordination
8
France plays an active role in the international coordination of joint reform initiatives. The country contributes to the provision of global public goods. It has a long tradition of acting on an international level to take part in security/military missions, combat climate change (e.g., hosting the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21)), provide humanitarian and development aid, and promote health, education programs and fiscal cooperation.

Concerning the European Monetary Union, French proposals contribute to defining EU policies and often serve as a basis for compromise. However, the credibility of these initiatives was damaged by the French government’s inability to respect common rules France had signed, such as the stability rules of the European Monetary Union (EMU). This considerably limited the government’s success in steering or influencing decision-making at the European level, with France lacking credibility and political support.

President Macron has adopted a fundamentally different method. Having led an openly pro-European presidential campaign, he has declared his full commitment to EU rules, as well as his willingness to reduce the government’s budget deficits and realize structural reforms. In doing so, he has sought not only to enhance the country’s competitiveness but also to regain lost confidence and credibility in Europe, which is seen as a prerequisite for France’s EU partners to seriously consider his ambitious ideas on European renewal and further integration. Under Macron, France has shown a new willingness and capacity to contribute to the European Union. However, this impulse has produced few concrete results given the current crisis in European and national governance systems. On crucial matters, France finds it difficult to gain sufficient support for its proposals. For example, Macron’s ambitious EMU reform plans have met strong opposition from eight northern and northeastern EMU countries, and the Yellow Vest crisis has forced him to postpone or scale back his financial and budgetary ambitions.

Organizational Reform

#18

To what extent do actors within the government monitor whether institutional arrangements of governing are appropriate?

10
 9

The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly and effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly.
 5
 4
 3


The institutional arrangements of governing are selectively and sporadically monitored.
 2
 1

There is no monitoring.
Self-monitoring
5
Numerous reports on the reform of rules, procedures and structures are prepared at the request of governmental authorities. The Court of Accounts plays a very active and stimulating role in this regard. However, few of these recommendations are implemented. Resistance by the ministries or agencies affected is usually fierce, and is often supported by opposition parties or even by part of the majority coalition. The issue is complicated by the fact that ministerial structures can be set up and changed by the government in charge.
The local government administrations have proven to be among the systems least adaptable to structural change. This system is multilayered, complex and no longer in line with the challenges of the modern economy and society. Most serious attempts at reform have failed. However, some elements of the 2015 territorial reorganization may trigger more change (new powers to metropolitan areas, organized cooperation/fusion of the numerous and often too small municipalities). The initial measures taken by President Macron seem to indicate that he has chosen the indirect but powerful instrument of state subsidies to force local governments to make changes. However, the government’s ambitious changes concerning the metropolitan areas and Paris are still on hold, as they face (as usual) fierce resistance from the powerful local-government lobby. From de Gaulle to Macron, all governments have had to limit themselves to partial and ad hoc reforms, making the overall system complex and costly.

To what extent does the government improve its strategic capacity by changing the institutional arrangements of governing?

10
 9

The government improves its strategic capacity considerably by changing its institutional arrangements.
 8
 7
 6


The government improves its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 5
 4
 3


The government does not improve its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 2
 1

The government loses strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
Institutional Reform
7
French governments are usually reactive to the need to adapt and adjust to new challenges and pressures. These adaptations are not always based on a thorough evaluation of the benefits and drawbacks of the foreseen changes, however. A case in point is the reluctance of most governments to take seriously into consideration the recommendations of international organizations, if they do not fit with the views and short-term interests of the governing coalition. Resistance from vested interests also limits the quality and depth of reforms. Too often the changes, even if initially ambitious, become merely cosmetic or messy adjustments (when not dropped altogether). This triggers hostility to change, while in fact very little has been done. The new Macron administration is reminiscent of the Gaullist period at the beginning of the Fifth Republic, with its strong commitment to radical reforms (“heroic” rather than “incremental” style). The initial months of the presidency have already attained considerable achievements, but one has to be aware of French society’s deep-rooted reluctance to change. For example, the violent Yellow Vest protest movement starting in November 2018 put a brake on this “bonapartist” storm. After two years of the current government, it is evident that the weak capacity of organized opposition to the Macron administration’s reforms (e.g., by the trade unions, social organizations and vested interests) has given rise to spontaneous and violent grass-roots protests. Protesters have criticized the president’s top-down methods and policies, and the popularity of the president and prime minister has declined. This situation has forced the government to adopt a more cautious approach. If improvements are not felt within the next 12 to 18 months, the effective capacity of the government to achieve real change could be called seriously into question. The planned constitutional reform is on hold for the time being, as the agreement of a reluctant Senate is required.
Back to Top