The end of the year and the coming of the presidential election constitute the right time to analyze the achievements of the French economy. How did it overcome the difficulties caused by the sanitary crisis? Did it accomplish the progresses to remedy to the weaknesses noted in the past? For the political forces, if they are in charge of the power or if they belong to opposition, everything is white or everything is black. The reality is different. In some areas, success is difficult to contest, in others it is more than doubtful and they are some where the failure is indisputable.
The economy, thanks to the action of the State, has shown a remarkable resiliency in front of the Covid-19 pandemic. Time is not so far when it was forecast a failures wave and millions of workers sent to unemployment. The support granted to enterprises and the adaptation of the part time work financed by a huge increase of the public deficits have allowed to avoiding the worst. The action of the European Central Bank and the credibility of the euro have permitted that this deficit increase was financed with negative or near zero rates which will allow to limiting in the future the increase of the public debt charge.
The euro emerges as a winner in this period. It has given to the countries of the euro zone the same privilege the dollar has always granted to the United States in allowing them to financing themselves whatever were the circumstances. France, despite its high indebtedness, has taken profit of that and the interest rates fall has permitted to reduce the charge of the debt every year despite its increase. France financial credibility has been confirmed since the 10 years rate spread with Germany remained between 30 and 40 basis points.
The supporting and rebounding policies have generated a significant revival of the activity which has allowed to recovering a production level near the one which was observed before the pandemic. Forecasts for 2022 leave us hoping, if the last pandemic wave doesn’t provoke a comeback to the 2020 situation, a new year with a strong growth. But we must not draw from that, excessive conclusions. If the estimated number for 2021 (6.7%) constitutes a record in many decades, it is because the recession in 2020 (-7.9%) was the deepest since 1929. So France did better than Germany (3%). But it is because the recession was less pronounced in this country in 2020 (-5.1%).
We must, when we make international benchmarks, take the right indicators as the cumulated growth of the 2020 and 2021 years to which are added the forecasts for 2022. It would be laid between 2.4 and 2.8% in France according to the Banque de France and the 2022 Finance bill forecasts. It will be 1.2% and 1.5% in the United Kingdom and in Italy and 2.4% and 5.5% in Germany and in the U.S. So the French economy is a little above the average but not ahead of the other countries as some are trying to make us believing it. It was far from granted in advance and this result must be appreciated at its right value.
The results regarding employment and purchasing power are much less convincing. As with growth, everything depends of the choice of the indicators. The recent diminution of the unemployment rate is hailed but its level is still by large higher than in our economic partners. Regarding the jobseekers number, it is still above 3.3 millions and it has just a little fallen for five years when it had surged by near a million after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Its reduction had been a major priority for the successive governments of that period. The measures which have been adopted during the pandemic have impeached its increase but the reality is there: France is still confronted with a very high unemployment. And if we add the number of jobseekers who have already a part-time job but who are looking for a full-time one, unemployment rises to 5.7 millions, i.e. the same level than before the pandemic. That stabilization also results from the increase of the self-employed persons as these who deliver at home products ordered on the platforms or the VTC drivers. It is difficult to pretend that there is there the proof of the success of a policy.
Regarding purchasing power, it has been affected by two phenomenon acting in an opposite way. Tax reductions and the increase of all kind of social benefits have allowed it to stabilizing in 2020 and to increasing in 2021 (+1.8%) despite the crisis. But this situation is precarious due to the threats weighting on household caused by the inflation rebound, especially because of the energy prices rise despite the limitation measures adopted by the government and of the low wages and social benefits reevaluations. That has lead INSEE to forecast a real diminution of the available purchasing power during 2022 first half, which would offset the past increases.
Results are clearly unfavorable regarding industrial production and foreign exchanges which had until now constituted the main criteria of the country competitiveness. Industrial production is inferior by 15% to the level observed ten years ago. The fall occurred in 2020 has been partly compensated in 2021. We are delighted at saying that France is the most attractive country in Europe but we fail to give precise and indisputable indicators allowing to making international comparisons because they do not exist. In the same time it is announced that for the first time we would have more plants openings than closures. But that doesn’t give any guarantee about the number of net created jobs and that has not stopped the fall of the number of employees in the industry.
Despite the 2020 recession, the trade deficit has increased and it is not the fault of the energy prices. It is the increase of the manufactured goods deficit which is its main cause: it came from 15 to 35 billion euro during the first nine months of the year compared to the same periods in 2019 and 2020 with high disparities among sectors. The tensions on the power market have allowed a spectacular exports rebound. The electricity trade balance has reached during the 3rd quarter 1.9 billion euro. It is going to be reduced due to a less availability of the nuclear plants but it would have been much more important if the Fessenheim plant had not been closed. At a time when the network operator is alarming about the risks of possible power cuts this winter, we realize to which point that decision, a purely political one because the Nuclear Safety Authority had given the operating authorization, will have been absurd.
The indisputable successes achieved in the management of the economy during the pandemic must not occult the two weaknesses of the French economy, employment and industry. The remedies employed until now through huge expenses to reduce labor costs, amounts which have mainly profited to the other sectors of the economy, have failed. The rehabilitation of productive activities can only be achieved through a genuine cultural revolution.
The executives must now use their time to their products and to customers instead of being focused on the management of their business portfolio. The engineers, the sale forces and the workers in every plant must benefit of working conditions and remunerations which reflect the real contribution they bring not only to their enterprise but also to their country.