As the far-left and the far-right pick up support in presidential polls, is France simply unreformable?

All leading contenders in the presidential campaign just offer variations on a brand of statism (Source: Getty)

Daniel Hamilton, senior director at FTI Consulting, says Yes.

France’s pursuit of the joie de vivre may appear attractive – but it comes at a price. At roughly 10 per cent, its unemployment rate is roughly twice that of Germany and the UK.

Rather than implement the labour market reforms employers are crying out for, the political establishment remains doggedly wedded to the 35-hour working week and a retirement age of 62. The country’s myriad regulations, licensing regimes and bewildering institutions continue to stifle economic growth.

Since 2008, OECD figures show France has slipped behind Spain and Portugal in terms of ease of doing business. At 45 per cent of GDP, tax rates continue to place the country at a comparative disadvantage to its neighbours. Alas, this year’s presidential campaign offers no salvation for reform-minded Frenchmen.

Each of the leading contenders offer differing forms of statism – from Marine Le Pen’s brand of Poujadist, small-town protectionism to the “centrist” Emmanuel Macron’s unfunded pledge to inject €50bn into new economic stimuli. Real reform? C’est impossible.

Dylan Kissane, director of marketing at The CoSMo Company, Lyon, and a former academic, says No.

Even as the far left and, indeed, the far right gather steam in the run up to the French presidential election, there is still hope for the country.

Should the left, in either its extreme or more moderate incarnations, continue to hold onto the reins of power, then the reforms that will come – and they must come at some point – are going to hurt so much more.

Every year that goes by without the state-funded pension Ponzi schemes being addressed, without the productivity-killing 35 hour week being abolished, and without any better solution to a problem other than the knee-jerk decision to “tax the rich” or “appoint a regulator” is going to make the eventual reforms harder to pursue.

Luckily, though, there are still enough rational souls in l’Hexagone to realise the folly of handing another five-year term to the left and so, while voters may flirt with the firebrands in the first round, they will come around for the final vote.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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