Macron humiliated as France ‘sliding backwards’ on industrial power

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The French Court of Audit (Cour des Comptes) said that France had “been exposed to a greater de-industrialisation trend than its main partners” between 2004 and 2019, based on World Bank figures on manufacturing added value as a percentage of GDP. According to World Population Review, France has the world’s sixth-largest economy, sitting just behind the UK, raking in £2.09trillion a year.

However, France has slipped down the rankings as a global industrial power, the country’s state auditor warned, as it laid into the country’s “mediocre” schools and costly and bloated cultural sector.

In a series of unprecedented notes on the country’s “structural failings”, the state auditor also heaped criticism on its “declining” school system and an out-of-date culture ministry whose role as a “ticket office” to hand out mass subsidies verged on cronyism.

The timing of the acerbic diagnosis of France’s ills risks proving a bitter pill for the administration of President Macron just four months before elections in which the fate of French industry could loom large.

The cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is set to cost the French economy in the region of £360billion over the course of three years.

Mr Macron’s rival, hard-right candidate Eric Zemmour, has repeatedly warned that France is in a near-terminal state of decline morally and economically.

In a recent TV debate, Mr Zemmour said: “In 1980 the GDP per capita, that is to say the quantity of wealth produced in the country divided by the number of inhabitants, was identical in France, Germany and the United States.”

He then said: “40 years later, the French indicator is 40 percent lower than that of an American, and 15 percent lower than that of Germany.”

To reindustrialise the country and help industrialists, Mr Zemmour advocates the French preference.

In addition to lowering production taxes, he wants to force public procurement to favour French companies.

The reduction of taxes is one of the 13 points of action suggested to Mr Macron in order to recover the decline.

“Adapting industrial policy to new challenges”, one of the 13 notes handed to the Macron government, predicted that without tax cuts and massive investment in research and the green and digital economy, France, along with the European Union, faced “technological retreat” compared with other major world powers in America and Asia.

Speaking to France Inter radio, Pierre Moscovici, president of the Cour des Comptes, said that France had a “cultural problem” regarding industrial policy.

He said: “Today industry represents 11 percent of GDP. We have lost ground compared to European partners, including Germany and even northern Italy.”

He added: “A country that loses ground industrially is a country that loses standing and also precipitates working classes towards populism, notably the Far-Right.”

Trying to sound optimistic, he concluded by saying: “France has undoubtedly lost ground in industrial terms but is not in decline.”

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By comparison, the World Bank data suggests that French industry slightly outperformed the UK’s in the same period, with both countries’ manufacturing added value on around £202billion in 2004 but France significantly ahead in 2019 on £231billion to Britain’s £209billion.

Mr Moscovici deemed Mr Macron’s recent pledge to pump €30billion (£25billion) into strategic industrial sectors over the next ten years was appropriate.

He also approved of the French head of state’s decision to pump huge sums into propping up the economy “whatever it costs” during the Covid crisis given the “exceptional circumstances”.

But he warned that the next French presidency would have to deal with a serious hangover given that state spending now accounted for 59 percent of GDP – the highest figure in “democracies and the EU” and that debt had jumped to 115 per cent of GDP compared to 70 in Germany.

In other notes, the state auditor took aim at France’s school system saying that despite a raft of reforms and spending above the OCDE average, results remained “mediocre” and “are tending to get worse”, particularly among pupils from underprivileged backgrounds.

It suggested providing school heads with more “managerial” powers to pick their teachers, merit-based bonuses, and evaluation of schools’ performance – highly sensitive issues in France.

Perhaps the most damning note of all was reserved for the French culture ministry.

Once the pride of the nation for fostering France’s sacrosanct “cultural exception” in the face of Anglo-Saxon hegemony, the auditor said the ministry had over the past 40 years effectively morphed into a glorified “ticket office” for state handouts from its €3billion (£2.5billion) annual budget to a plethora of cultural players all defending their “acquired rights”.

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