Chronic. A presidential election is used to choose a person, but just as much to define and decide collective choices. This is what happened in 2007, and more or less in 2017. But this was not the case for Mitterrand’s second term, in 1988, or for Chirac’s second, in 2002. Not without consequences. As for the elections of 1995 (first term of Chirac) and 2012 (Holland), they were followed by reorientation of economic policies (respectively towards budgetary consolidation and towards competitiveness) which immediately degraded the political capital of the new elected official. At the same time as a question of respect for the voters, clarity on the choices is a condition of the legitimacy of the action to come.
After a pre-campaign under the influence of fear and hatred, it is therefore to be hoped that the debates will soon turn to the key issues on which the country needs to take direction. Let’s list five of them.
The first subject is the ecological transition, which promises to be a new industrial revolution. Despite breathtaking technical progress, which augurs well for a desirable future, it will entail macroeconomic costs, impose changes in lifestyle and, for some, in profession. Already, reluctance to renewable energies is growing, the price of carbon has become a red rag, the evocation of the limits of urban sprawl is arousing fury. Everything thus invites political competitors to dodge or pretend, against the evidence, that nuclear power will be enough to spare us the coming mutation. In the absence of a substantive presidential debate, the confrontation between climate activists and defenders of the existing is likely to sharpen and block any attempt to build consensus around the transformation to be carried out and equity in the distribution of efforts.
Education and skills
The second debate is about productive recovery. Thanks to immediate and powerful public support, the economy has weathered the pandemic shock well. But the rout of sectors that were believed to be strong, such as pharmaceuticals, has revealed the anemia of our economic potential, and the crisis has underlined the fragility of our export capacity. Whether there is a drop in demand, as in aeronautics, or the emergence of new competitors, as in space, and here we are.
The question of competitiveness, which had dominated Holland’s five-year term, is posed in renewed terms. Protectionism has put on the new clothes of resilience, but ignores that global value chains have provided us with vaccines and that the clearest indicator of our weaknesses is the lack of exporters. Some, on the right in particular, want to further amplify the measures to reduce the cost of labor. The analysis suggests, however, that our competitiveness deficit today stems less from a problem of cost than from a lack of skills, digitization, innovation and entrepreneurial dynamics.
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