Monday, March 21, 2011

"Le service publice ne porte plus son nom"

"Le service publice ne porte plus son nom": This is the harsh judgment of the Mediator of the Republic. The government has always presented its policy of non-replacement of 1 in 2 retiring civil servants as a "reform" rather than a "degradation" of administrative services, but no justification was ever given for believing that a truncated civil service could perform the same function that a more fully-staffed civil service had been capable of. Perhaps the overuse of the adjective "bloated" convinced too many people that it was so. Perhaps stereotypes of the typical civil servant as "lazy" and "inefficient" made it possible to believe that they really were useless. Perhaps the reflexive use of images such as "dégraisser le mammouth" planted false ideas in people's minds. In any case, the Mediator now calls attention to the reality of what has happened.

It seems possible, moreover, that this decline in public service might have something to do with the decline in support for the party that has governed France more or less alone for the past decade. I don't have time to analyze the results of the cantonals in detail, so I will wait for other commentators to ponder the results. But one possibility is that we can read this election as a sanction vote. The UMP's losses are significant, but they did not result in gains for the PS, which has been dominant at the departmental level. The gains went rather to extragovernmental parties: not only the FN but also the ecologists and the parties of the extreme left. For many ordinary citizens, government is not working. It may be as simple as that. Of course the distribution of the protest vote is not meaningless. There are many diagnoses of the problem, and therefore many ways of protesting, some of which may seem aberrant. But if the governing parties want to improve their image, the first thing they have to do is improve the quality of government services.


FrédéricLN said...

Heard in the street last Friday, this conversation between two mothers:

"On cotise, quand même ! On paye des impôts ! On a le droit d'avoir un service public — l'Education — qui tient la route !"

Up to you to translate, sorry - I don't know the most relevant meaning of "cotiser" - it's about "contribute", but "cotiser" suggest it's voluntary, rather than compulsory.

It was unclear whether the mother was complaining about the suppression of Education jobs by the present Administration, or about the strike of Education support staff in our town right now.

So, our point may be relevant. And I would add another individual tale going in the same direction - a person who probably voted FN just because administration services did not handle her (tragic) case properly.

Yet, as you know, we French people do not usually consider the Administration as a service provider with which we should contract; we usually have a more equivocal perception: on one hand, the Administration holds the power, and is therefore entitled to force us to pay and entitled to hire many people with that money (too much money and too many people, most people will say); on the other hand, the Administration (gouvernement) is our watch and advocate to protect us from the bureaucratic stupidity, from the inefficiency and from the strikes of the government staff (administration).

It's a constant temptation for right-wing politicians to go to war against the government staff. Their voters encourage them to do so. The problem is that the discouraged staff might stop working, or give up doing their best as they usually do, and the government would not be manageable any more. Which is an issue for politicians.

But, er - I couldn't explain a relationship with FN scores, right now.

Louis said...

More a witness acount than a comment, but there you go.
I was recently discussing with a high-ranking civil servant in the Finance Ministry of a Northern European country. Over tea and cookies the conversation came to the "reform" of the public services.
Basically the same thing happened here than in France: drastic reductions in the number of public employees with in mind a reduction of the costs for the same level of service. Here also, vague assumptions about most civil servants' low productivity inform the debate.
Only nothing went as planned, according to my interlocutor. The number of employees has been reduced, for sure. But the reduction in costs, expected at about 20%, approximated a measily 1%, and the disruptions in services have been much more frequent and problematic than expected. His conclusion: we didn't save money by depleting our working force, and we now provide a worst level of service than before...

FrédéricLN said...

Again on the "government delusion" as a driver for FN vote :

Olivier said...

"I want either less government or more opporunity to participate in it" could be the motto of the National Front - or almost any french party for that matter.

In fact, there was never more than a slight reduction in the national civil service, a mere blimp on the big picture, whereas local and public health service enrollement is still increasing.
Since there has been no redefinition of the scope of the governement, but merely a redispatching operation from state to local level (road maintenance, welfare administration), french taxpayers end-up paying more for the same service.