France

   

Social Policies

#12
Key Findings
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.

Education

#14

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
7
The French education system can in many aspects be characterized as rather successful, but in contrast to the past, it fails to integrate and promote the weakest segments of society. In the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, the country’s results did not improve, but remained slightly above the OECD average, with France ranked 20th out of 70 countries. Overall spending on educational institutions amounted to 5.2% of GDP in 2016, slightly above the OECD average. Spending at the preschool level is exemplary. A law adopted in 2019 makes preschool attendance mandatory for all children three years old (écoles maternelles). France now falls slightly below the OECD average public expenditure at the primary level. However, one alarming finding of the PISA assessment is that, more than in any other OECD country, individual success depends on the student’s socioeconomic background. Secondary education is rather good but uneven, excessively costly and, in recent years, has fallen behind other OECD countries. Higher education is dual, with a broad range of excellent elite institutions (prestigious lycées and grandes écoles) and a large mass university system, which is poorly funded and poorly managed, and does not prepare its students well for a successful entry to the labor market. Spending on universities lies below the OECD average. More importantly, drop-out rates are dramatic: only 40% of registered students obtain a university degree.

One major problem concerns professional training. The transition from education to professional training is poor. Organized by state schools, the system offers only a few alternative training courses in cooperation with businesses and diplomas are often not accepted by companies. This is a major reason for the high rates of youth unemployment in France.

The Macron government is approaching these issues in a more open and pragmatic way by distancing itself from the powerful teaching lobby, which has traditionally co-managed the system with the government (to the main benefit of professors). Many significant measures have been taken and immediately implemented. First, these measures placed greater emphasis on training young people from less affluent backgrounds. In areas with significant social problems, the government has decided to cut the number of students per elementary school class by half immediately, reducing the maximum number of students to 12 per class. Second, most of the disputed reforms put in place by the Hollande-Valls government are being dismantled (for instance the “bi-langues” classes have been reintroduced in secondary schools and more emphasis is put on the fundamentals). Third, international evaluations and rankings (such as the PISA report) have been taken into account and will likely form the basis for further changes. Finally, an immediate action program has been launched, mobilizing €15 billion for job training measures (targeting the long-term unemployed and young people leaving school without diploma), and a far-reaching renewal of the professional training system was passed in 2018. In spite of the hostility of the trade unions, the minister for education has declared that the evaluation of schools and teachers will become normal practice. The government has also succeeded in tackling two “sacred cows” of the education system, which every minister over the past 20 years had failed to reform: the degree obtained at the end of upper secondary eduction (baccalauréat) will become more manageable, integrating a series of successive checks and a final exam; and a new process for registering students at universities has been set up, based on both students’ requests and evaluations by the universities themselves. This system worked well in 2019, and pushes parents, students and professors to develop strategies and make choices well before the final year of secondary school.
Another important development took place in September 2019, following an attempt by the government to increase tuition fees for foreign students. The Constitutional Court declared that this measure was unconstitutional, and affirmed that education should be offered for free at all levels; however, it did state that a “modest” registration fee would be allowable. As of the time of writing, the level of this fee had not been set.

Citations:
OECD: Education at a glance 2019, Country Note France

Social Inclusion

#12

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
7
By international and European standards, the French welfare state is generous and covers all possible dimensions affecting collective and individual welfare, not only of citizens but also of foreign residents. Poverty remains at a comparatively low level. Therefore, programs providing minimum incomes, health protection, and support to the poor and to families are satisfactory, effectively supporting social inclusion. The challenges for France at a time of economic decline and unemployment are, first, to provide sufficient funding for the costly system without undermining competitiveness with too-high levels of social contributions (which demands an overhaul of the tax and contribution system as a whole); and second, to recalibrate the balance of solidarity and individual responsibility, for instance by introducing more incentives for the jobless to search for employment, and by reducing social contributions on low wages (beginning in September 2019, employers no longer pay contributions up to the point of the minimum salary fixed by the state)

The performance of the welfare state is less convincing when it comes to equal opportunities. The percentage of young people in neither education nor employment is persistently high, pointing to the difficulties in transitioning between the education system and the labor market. Furthermore, some groups or territorial units are discriminated against and marginalized. So-called second-generation immigrants, especially those living in the suburbs, as well as less vocal groups in declining rural regions, feel excluded from broader French society. These populations often experience poor education and training, and high unemployment and poverty rates. In addition to the measures targeting elementary schools in socially disadvantaged areas, the Macron administration has developed a strategy emphasizing training and work placement rather than financial support – that is, focusing on capabilities rather than assistance. The number of young students opting for an apprenticeship training has shown an encouraging increase.

Health

#12

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
7
France has a high-quality health system, which is generous and largely inclusive. Since its inception, it has remained a public system based on a compulsory, uniform insurance for all French citizens, with employers’ and employees’ contributions calculated according to wage levels. Together with widespread complementary insurances, they cover most individual costs. About 10% of GDP is spent on healthcare, one of the highest ratios in Europe. The health system includes all residents, and also offers services for illegal immigrants and foreigners (to the point that some asylum-seekers from countries such as Georgia have come primarily with the aim of receiving free medical care).

The problem is cost efficiency and the containment of deficits, which have been constant in recent years. Savings have improved recently, but the high level of medication consumption still needs to be tackled with more decisive measures. The lack of doctors in rural areas and in some poor neighborhoods is a growing issue. The unsatisfactory distribution of doctors among regions and medical disciplines would be unbearable without the high contribution of practitioners from foreign countries (Africa, Middle East, Romania). New policies are expected in order to remedy first the deficits and second the “medical desertification.” More generous reimbursements of expenses for glasses and dental care (a traditionally weak point of the system) were promised by Macron and implemented in 2018. An ambitious plan to reform the healthcare system was announced in September 2018, but has yet to be implemented. The plan proposes to develop an intermediary level between hospitals and individual doctors, which would involve establishing structures that enable the various medical professions to provide collective and improved services in particular in rural areas. The aim is to alleviate the excessive burden on hospitals by derouting the care for basic treatments toward these healthcare centers (Maisons de santé). The plan also proposes to recruit several thousand medical assistants (to deal with the bureaucratic component of the profession) and eliminate the numerus clausus for university admissions. The social security budget, which was originally forecast to reach a positive balance in 2019 for the first time since 2012, will in fact be in deficit at least through 2023 as a consequence of the measures implemented in the wake of the Yellow Vest protests.

Families

#1

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
10
There is a long and consensual tradition of support for families, going back to the 1930s. The comprehensive policy mix which has developed since then has been successful in providing childcare, financial support, parental leave and generous fiscal policies (income is not taxed individually but in each family unit, dividing up the total income by the number of people in a family). Beginning in 2019, nursery schooling has been mandatory from the age of three, a policy that will strengthen the inclusion of immigrant children. In addition, families using the childcare support at home are given rebates on their social contributions. These policies have been effective. Not only is the birth rate in France one of the highest in Europe (despite a slight fall from an average of 2.0 births per woman between 2006 and 2014 to 1.92 births per woman in 2018), but the percentage of women integrated in the labor market also compares favorably to the European leaders (Scandinavian countries) in this domain. However, faced with the need to reduce the budget deficit, the Hollande government scuttled the French welfare state’s “principle of universality” (i.e., social benefits for all, related to the number of children per family, without consideration of income and wealth), reducing the child allowance for families over an income ceiling. This highly contested measure has introduced a more realistic approach to policymaking, beyond the legalistic and formalistic principles which have prevailed since the Second World War. The fact that income taxes are calculated by family unit and not individually is also very favorable to families, since spouses and children lower the amount of taxable income per head.

Pensions

#12

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
7
The French pension system is relatively generous, and largely prevents poverty of the elderly. But it is also complex, which is a problem for equity: First, the so-called general regime applies to all private employees and is complemented by additional voluntary systems, in particular in large companies. Second, some professions are affiliated to “special regimes” which are characterized by shorter periods of contribution and higher generosity in pension payments. These systems usually cover employees working in public companies or groups highly subsidized by the public budget (coal mines, public transport, sailors and fishermen, for example). Finally, public servants usually benefit from higher payments as their pension payments are based on their final salary (last six months), and not on an average (e.g., best 25 years). Early retirement remains a common practice. However, the raising of the retirement age to 62 has led to a constant increase in the effective average age of entry into a pension since 2010, calculated as 60.5 years by the OECD for 2017 (compared to 63.3 years for the EU-28 average). The OECD estimates that the age of retirement will further increase following the gradual implementation of the pension reform. An international survey shows that France offers the most generous pensions worldwide, and that given the high life expectancy in the country, these pensions are paid for a longer period than in most other nations.

In order to assure the sustainability of the pension system, French governments continuously introduced reform measures over the last decade: pension contributions have been increased, the number of years of contribution needed to receive a full pension has been increased to 43 years, and the peculiarities or privileges granted to some professional groups (“special regimes”) have been reduced. Macron has deliberately chosen to reduce the advantages enjoyed by the pensioners in order to increase the income of people in work. This has been done by increasing a universal tax paid, the Universal Social Contribution (Cotisation sociale généralisée, CSG), and by eliminating a social contribution paid only by salaried people. The government had also decided that in 2019, pensions would be increased by only 0.3%, but after the eruption of the Yellow Vest protests, it accepted an increase reflecting the inflation rate for the most modest pensions.

In the meantime, the first positive effects of the Sarkozy reforms of 2010 have been felt. In 2015, for the first time, the pension branch of the social security system showed a positive balance, although this lasted only two years. An agreement between three trade unions and the employers’ association added further adaptations concerning the supplementary pension. The payment of supplementary pensions (which are run jointly by the social partners) will be postponed until the age of 64 for most beneficiaries. The main novelty of this rather complex agreement is that it introduces flexibility in fixing the pension age and actually allows its postponement for most employees in the private sector to the age of 64. Macron has indicated that he will not introduce new reforms concerning the retirement age and the number of years of contribution during his term. Instead, he has suggested changing the method of calculation for pensions by creating a system of credit points accumulated by employees, which will be monetarized at the moment of their retirement. He further declared that he would drastically simplify the current system, merging the current 42 different social regimes into one. This is a daunting task, as the reforms foreseen would constitute a frontal attack on the privileges accumulated over time by a number of groups and professions. After a set of intensive consultations, the reform originally due to be adopted in 2019 was postponed to 2020. Despite intense discussions and negotiations, the project has met fierce opposition and triggered mass mobilization. It remains to be seen whether Macron will succeed in bringing through this reform, regarded as being crucial in order to give him greater financial maneuvering room in the second half of his mandate.

Citations:
OECD: Pensions at a Glance 2019. OECD and G20 Indicators
OCDE: Vieillissement et politique de l’emploi – statistiques sur l’age effectif moyen de la retraite (http://www.oecd.org/fr/els/emp/age-effectif-moyen-de-retraite.htm)
Conseil d’orientation des retraites (COR): Rapport annuel, June 2018.

Integration

#21

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
6
Traditionally, France has an open policy toward immigrants. Every person born in France is considered French, or eligible to obtain French citizenship. Integration policies, in terms of long-term residence permits, access to citizenship and family reunification are open and generous. Presently, most new legal immigrants are coming due to family reunification. This partially explains the difficulty of integrating new immigrants, who often have no skills, no education and do not speak French. Processes of integration have to start from scratch. However, the problem is often the same for immigrants moving to France more generally; most are unskilled, and as such, subject to vagaries of economic booms and busts, for instance in the construction sector.

The integration of the so-called second (in fact, often the third) generation of immigrants, especially coming from Maghreb countries, is difficult for many reasons: education system failures; community concentration in urban/suburban ghettos; high unemployment; cultural identity issues, practices of job discrimination and so on. Immigration from Eastern Europe, the southern Balkans and, more recently, from the Middle East has become a very sensitive subject exploited by the National Rally. The reluctance of the French socialist government to put in place a serious migration policy was challenged by German Chancellor Merkel’s sudden decision in August 2015 to open the doors to migrants from Syria, forcing the French government to revise its veiled but deliberate policy of restricting entry (low level of asylum admissions, cumbersome and discouraging bureaucratic processes).

President Macron has declared his intention to review France’s immigration policy, combining acceptance and integration policies for immigrants and refugees with accelerated asylum-application procedures and stronger efforts to send back people whose applications are rejected. The process of screening requests has improved, but there has also been a deliberate policy to restrict entry. During the summer of 2019, Macron declared that he would increase controls on illegal migration; however, as of the time of writing, no specific measures had been announced.

Citations:
OFPRA: Les données de l’asile 2018 (https://www.ofpra.gouv.fr/fr/l-ofpra/actualites/les-donnees-de-l-asile-a-l-ofpra-en)

Safe Living

#22

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Internal Security Policy
7
Although the police maintain a reputation for being efficient (sometimes too efficient, as the institution is granted significant powers and discretion vis-à-vis the citizenry), concerns over internal security are high. Attention has focused on repeated outbreaks of urban violence in the suburbs or other areas. Following a rising level of petty crime and several terrorist attacks on French territory and abroad, citizens have been more and more vocal about the need to be better protected by enforcing “law and order” measures. There is a clear relationship between the economic and social crisis and this increasing sense of insecurity. This situation has also had a decisive impact on protest votes in favor of the extreme-right party, the National Rally.

The terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 elevated the topic of security to the top of the political agenda, triggering real concerns as well as political polemics driven by the populist and extreme right. The government has reacted to this with new security measures, giving more powers to the executive and police to prevent terrorist acts. The Macron administration terminated the emergency legislation in November 2017, but this came at the price of bringing the controversial rules into the flow of “normal” law with the introduction of an anti-terrorism law in October 2017. A side consequence of the focus on terrorism has been a distraction from the fight against petty crimes, particularly in large cities, a fact that has contributed to some citizen dissatisfaction. Moreover, local police forces have grown, and all police officers are now entitled to use a firearm, in contrast to past practices.
The Yellow Vest uprising and its repression, stretching from November 2018 to June 2019, also served to modify the relationship between police and citizens. Faced with protests exhibiting rarely seen levels of violence (exacerbated by black bloc activists), the government reacted strongly to the social mobilization, triggering accusations of overreaction by parties and groups of the left. Once again, the French tradition of preferring protest and violence to participation and compromise was seen at work here.

Global Inequalities

#10

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
7
France has a long tradition of offering support to poor countries both in terms of financial support and promotion of policies in their favor. However, this should be qualified. First, France is reluctant to consider that free trade is one of the most effective instruments of support. As a consequence, France is often an obstacle to the lowering of tariffs and trade barriers, for instance in agriculture. Second, French aid is concentrated on African countries, where its economic interests have been traditionally strong. The temptation to link aid to imports from the donor country is quite common.
Within the framework of international organizations, France is active but for the above mentioned reasons, its policy preferences are deeply influenced by path dependency, such as colonization and the global network of French-speaking countries.
On a different front, France has tried to impose a tax on air travel in order to finance the fight against AIDS in poor countries, but has convinced only a few counties to follow suit.
Back to Top