Monday, May 6, 2013

A Ten-Year Plan

No doubt the echo of Soviet practice is unintentional, but François Hollande has announced a "ten-year plan" for public investment. The chosen targets are the correct ones: Hollande is calling for more investment in digital technology, green energy, health, infrastructure, and "broadly speaking, new technologies." This is exactly the right focus. Instead of futilely defending declining industries with global overcapacity such as automobiles, steel, shipbuilding, and textiles (as Arnaud Montebourg has been doing with all too much fanfare), Hollande is recognizing where France's future opportunities lie. This is all to the good.

The method, however, leaves something to be desired. It is characteristic of Hollande's style of governing. No doubt he wants to underscore that under him, the prime minister is no mere "collaborator" but in fact the prime mover in the development of policy positions. He is trying to restore the old equilibrium between PM and president under the Fifth Republic. But his way of doing this is repeatedly to announce that, in a few weeks, the PM will be telling you what the policy of this government actually is.

The result of this division of labor is to leave the president looking like a vague and vaporous usine à gaz. And by the time the details of the proposal dribble out, the public has lost interest, or forgets to credit the president for actually backing the initiative. The proper way to manage this sort of balance is for the government to elaborate the details of its policy and then for the president to make the announcement when the plans are finally mature. He should appear with the PM and other relevant ministers at his side. He should make it clear that he is leading the process and driving reform. But he should not be speaking in a void. At least that's how I see it.

1 comment:

FrédéricLN said...

Yes. Generally speaking, a Head of State might announce orientations, and the government would put them in practice through detailed measures. In France, the connection is lost.

Everybody in the governement feared Nicolas Sarkozy's improvisations, nobody now pays much attention to François Hollande's orientations. Everybody is stuck to his own job, the legal constraints of any kind, some keywords he/she feels obliged to share ("emplois d'avenir"…), nobody dares to look at outcomes and impacts. It's just my feeling, I'm no insider nowadays.