When we remember the projections which were made a year ago about the world economy, we measure to which extent the art of forecasting is difficult. But that must not impeach us to look with lucidity at the problems the world and, of course, France will be confronted with next year and to try to assess what are at stakes. If the art of governing lies in to know how to forecast, in order to find the appropriate policies and to put them into practice with success, it is important to have an as sound as possible analysis of the challenges we will have to cope with tomorrow.
The first of them is obviously the Covid-19 pandemic. It was impossible, in 2019, to imagine and then to forecast such a catastrophe, because it is necessary to call such things by their name, was going to occur. But if the agenda was unpredictable, the possibility of such an event could not be averted. The world has always known major pandemics. The progress of pharmaceutical research and of medicine has permitted to soften their consequences. But the rise of travels have caused that pandemics could not anymore be confined inside the place of their apparition and that situation is irreversible. So it is necessary to adapt and to prepare ourselves to that. It is precisely what has not been done in France as in many other countries. The lack of protection equipments and of treatment capacities in hospitals due to badly inspired budgetary worries has aggravated the financial consequences of the crisis with amounts without any bearing on the achieved savings. It has also introduced a heavy and dangerous doubt about the efficiency of these protections. The year 2021 will have to be the one when these several administrations will have to become conscious that such mistakes must not be done again.
That will be also the year of the vaccination. The stakes, yet essential, seem to be underestimated. The vaccine, whatever is its composition or the scientific logic on which it lies is the absolute weapon. If its efficiency is established, that means that the pandemic will have been defeated and the economies, like what is happening in China, will rebound and will quickly close the growth deficit observed in 2020. But the States are confronted with a dilemma. They can show off their trust in the ability of the different proposed vaccines, but then they must progressively renounce to the restrictive measures. If, to the contrary, they persist in a precautionary logic, they give credit to the doubts about the ability of the vaccines to close the pandemic. They then feed skepticism and incite to distrust or even to a certain reserve already largely present in France, regarding the interest to be vaccinated.
The second challenge is about the progressive reconstruction of international economic relations, heavily affected by the Trump administration. Joe Biden election would contribute to it but we wouldn’t overestimate his abilities because it is not guaranteed that the Democrats get the majority at the Senate after the coming election in Georgia. The major lesson of the second half of the 20th century, which was an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, notably in Europe, was that the progressive elimination of trade and investments barriers between the States has brought a decisive contribution. The Marshall Plan and after it, the investments of American companies, which became “multinational firms”, have improved growth. The creation of the European Community of Coal and Steel has constituted the birthplace of today Europe. The major Japanese trading companies have played a decisive role in the emergence of Southeast Asia and their action has been relieved by the China conversion to market economy. The country is pursuing that way with its initiative, taking its roots in history with its references to the Silk Roads. At last, it is the adhesion of the East European countries to the Union which allows them to progressively close their economic backwardness.
The conclusion of a major trade agreement in Asia, the negotiations entering into their final stage on foreign investments between China and Europe and the U.S. comeback into the Paris Agreement constitute a good start and 2021 could be the beginning of the reconstruction of an international economic order where everybody would be the winner. But it would remain a lot to do, especially with a better regulation of the giants of the digital economy. The stake is a triple one: it is about the platforms contents, whose consequences on the democratic life cannot anymore be ignored, about competition, which in the U.S. is starting to worry and about taxes. The evasion is easy since data have no territorial basis.
As another factor of easing the tensions, the conclusion of an agreement about Brexit has come at the right time. But we wouldn’t make a mistake. The Brexit has become a “false Brexit” because nothing will change about merchandises exchanges whose circulation will remain free, without taxes or quotas. It was, in fact, the only way to solve the Irish border issue. Services activities will remain the only ones being affected, to the great displeasure of the City of London. It won’t be any more possible for tourists coming to shopping in London to get the reimbursement of the VAT, which will incite them to come to France to make their purchases. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union and has recovered its sovereignty but it remains in the Customs Union. The Donald Trump defeat and the rebound of the sanitary crisis at the end of the year are not without link with the major concessions offered by Boris Johnson. Then, it is virtually certain that, during the coming years, we see other agreements which will lift other restrictions.
2021 will be also in France a pre-electoral year and the political stakes are omnipresent. The pandemic had an advantage for the government. Its consequences on activity have completely offset its poor economic results: low growth, unemployment durably high, lack of competitiveness as the increasing trade deficit shows it. Regarding public finances, it is now out of question to fix, as an objective, to come back to their rebalancing, because, rightly, to soften the consequences of the pandemic, a huge deficit has been registered in 2000, which wouldn’t come back at its already high pre-crisis level in 2021. But the political debate about the economic choices cannot be eluded. The government is already criticized on its decisions when the pandemic started and on its hesitations regarding the protections tools and the restrictive measures to limit its diffusion inside the population. The challenge it will have to face will be to choose between keeping the past policy and proposing new orientations it will be easy to justify by the taking into consideration of the consequences of the pandemic. Nothing has to be anymore as before. So the “tomorrow world” will have to be different, which will allow it to avoiding to appearing as reversing its judgments.
Through the choice of the improvement of the purchasing power and the reduction of inequalities as the aim of a new economic policy, along with the elaboration, at last, of a concrete investment program with efficient incentives to improve the air quality and to reduce energy consumption, whatever it is a fossil one or not, a candidate would reconcile social justice and environment.
So in France the major challenge of the 2021 year, along with the extinction of the pandemic thanks to vaccination, will be the birth of a political project, at last adapted to the new situation of the world.