Manuel Valls | How France will reform4 min read . Updated: 01 Jan 2015, 01:06 AM IST
The process of building a strong economy should focus not only on citizen's lives today, but must prepare the country for the future
The world is changing rapidly—and it will not wait for anyone. The only way to thrive is to keep pace with this transformation. That is why France is pursuing reforms.
Of course, reform means change. But it does not mean giving in to external pressure, or giving up what makes France French. Rather, it is the key to consolidating our history, our pride, our traditions, our way of life, and our values in a dynamic global environment, for the sake of today’s citizens and tomorrow’s. It is the key to building a stronger, more prosperous France.
Clearly, much is at stake in the ongoing reform process. The good news is that many factors work in France’s favour, including diverse geography, a vibrant science and technology sector, a rich culture, and vast human capital. Indeed, these factors help to explain why France remains the world’s fifth largest economy.
But, as globalization transforms the world economy, France must adapt in order to enable its businesses to compete abroad as well as at home. A robust business sector is decisive in an open economy, as it shapes a country’s ability to preserve—and improve—its citizens’ living standards.
That is why everything possible must be done to enable France to create more and better wealth. By helping French businesses recover lost margins, we can empower them to invest and create employment. That is precisely what the “responsibility pact", which will come into force on 1 January, and the tax credit for encouraging competitiveness and jobs aim to do.
As we help French businesses to expand abroad, we must also work to encourage inward foreign investment. Both are key to a country’s commercial attractiveness—among the most important dimensions of global competition.
This stronger France will tackle whatever challenges the world throws at it head on. At the same time, it will demonstrate its capacity to eliminate drags on creativity and wealth creation. The “law on growth and activity" that will be voted on next year will unleash the business sector’s energy, including by stimulating competition. Moreover, opening up regulated professions will help to reduce the inequalities with which the French public has become increasingly frustrated.
To create more wealth in an open economy is one of my government’s priorities. But more wealth alone will not cure France’s ills. The most successful countries are those where employers and employees feel bound to a common fate. It is thus urgent to improve social dialogue and bolster trust in France.
This objective underlies our “simplification schemes" for negotiation and consultation in the business sector. And it is helping to guide vocational education and training reform, which will benefit not only those who wish to enhance their skills at work, but also those whose lack of training is preventing them from finding employment.
These initiatives are just part of a broader shift. Through a variety of mechanisms, we are working to make citizens’ lives easier, streamline business activities, and relieve the authorities of extraneous work that diverts attention from important strategic tasks. French citizens will soon begin to feel the impact of these efforts in their daily lives.
Despite the tremendous potential of these initiatives, they will be for naught if they are not perceived as being fair. France, after all, has long been defined by a strong egalitarian impulse.
Consider education. In reworking our “priority education" programme, we can adjust teaching methods to address school inequalities, while channelling additional resources to disadvantaged areas. This includes ensuring that all schools have enough computers, so that all students can benefit from today’s technological breakthroughs, with no digital divide among students or regions. The fact that the impact will not be felt for years should not be allowed to diminish its urgency.
Indeed, the entire process of building a strong and equitable economy should aim not just to improve citizens’ lives today; it must also prepare France for the future. And, when it comes to boosting a country’s long term prospects, the most successful initiatives often take time to produce visible results.
In a society that overvalues immediacy, it can be difficult to take a long term view. But my government will not be deterred from forward thinking action that will ensure that tomorrow’s France is the France our citizens want and deserve.
It is up to the state to set an example for reform. This is all the more true in France, where citizens place high expectations on the state—not to do everything, but certainly to draw strategic lines and enable local actors to succeed. In short, the government must put its agenda setting power at the service of the people.
When it comes to preparing for the future, one exceptionally large project lies ahead: the energy transition. We all know that we are headed toward a new growth model—one that is more sober and sustainable, that depends less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy sources. This new approach to growth will entail new habits, new attitudes, and new modes of living. With the energy transition law, my government aims to get ahead of this trend by creating the legislative framework for future “green" growth.
The goals of the French government’s reform agenda are clear: A stronger France, able to thrive in a rapidly changing global environment; a fairer France, without which no effort, whether individual or collective, could be considered a success; and a more steadfast France that can serve as a stable and prosperous home for our children. In the interest of France and its people, we are committed to the reforms needed to realize this vision. ©2015/Project Syndicate
Manuel Valls is Prime Minister of France.