Energy mix, European cooperation, public funding, education, etc. The High Commissioner for Planning presents his proposals to reactivate the industry in France. With the conviction that he is subject to national sovereignty: “Yes our economies depend too much on external powers for essential goods, our freedom is just an appearance, ”he warns.
Challenges – The war in Ukraine has highlighted the strong dependence of France and especially of European countries on Russian gas. Can we find a form of energy sovereignty in the short term?
François Bayrou It is a long-term project. To stop depending on Russian gas, Europe needs to develop other capacities, liquefied gas, LNG ports or storage capacity that are not currently exploited, and of course nuclear, renewable, hydroelectric that we can expand. It will take months or even years, but these are crucial investments.
Following the Covid-19 epidemic, the war in Ukraine also demonstrates the risks of too strong economic interdependence between countries. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of globalization?
For several decades, we thought we had put an end to these two ancient threats of epidemics and war. We were wrong. These two successive crises forced France and the European countries to ask themselves a question that had not been asked for a long time, that of sovereignty. We realize that if our economies rely too heavily on external powers for such essential goods as health products, energy, food, etc., our freedom is really just an appearance.
How to change the treatment?
This can only happen through political leadership, a federation of public and private efforts, and a form of shared planning. Two years ago, when the President of the Republic decided to rebuild the High Planning Commission, everyone made fun of an anachronistic institution. Today, everyone realizes that if France had planned more in recent years, thinking more of a strategy to ensure its health and energy independence, it would have been better equipped to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic than later the war in Ukraine.
You defend the return of a planned economy …
No one imagines resurrecting the Plan of the 1950s, but I am sure that the strength of a political will shared with companies can create a new climate, which will have an impact on the functioning of the economy. The public interest must regain its place. Shareholder interests cannot be the only guide to investments or the location of production sites. The state must have a dialogue with large and medium-sized companies, from CAC 40 groups to large SMEs. And the big decision makers have to remember that they have a nationality.
Specifically, how would the High Planning Commission function in a possible second five-year term for Macron?
For eighteen months we have shown that this structure could work frugally: I am a volunteer and my team has only seven or eight collaborators. This did not prevent our work from leading to very strong political decisions: our report on electricity, published in March, raised the issue of reactivating nuclear energy in new terms. So it was decided to finance the construction of six EPR reactors. This is also true for debt and demographics. In the future, however, questions will have to be asked about the scope of the High Planning Commission, its increased resources, and its relationship with the executive. In addition, Emmanuel Macron has decided to defend the idea of a new place for the Plan in his project.
Does France really have the means to finance an industrial policy worthy of the name?
The state cannot do everything and does not have the means to support all free companies. This is by no means the goal. But it has the capacity to drive policies and bring together all economic agents – administrations, companies, unions, etc. – around the table to set priorities. That is why the reconquest of production, agricultural, industrial, intellectual, will take place.
Even if this means further investigating public debt?
Thanks to the European Central Bank and the single currency, France is at 0% debt! Public debt that finances investments whose return is higher than the type of debt is a good debt. I would add that in a period of “war economy”, the reduction of state debt arises in new terms: cantonment and lengthening.
Doesn’t the cost of labor slow down the relocation of industrial activities?
If we look at the world as it is, the question of the cost of labor is no longer as sharp. Firstly because France has narrowed the gap with Germany for ten years. Then because the industry of tomorrow is mainly based on robotics, algorithms, data, and so on. The challenge is not to “relocate” factories of the past but to master the technologies of the factories of the future and have production centers in our territory to maintain our ability to innovate from products.
Should this industrial reconquest be made on a European or French scale?
You don’t have to be naive. All European countries are looking to strengthen their industry. Everyone is defending their own interests and the European Union is not a charity. My doctrine is “help yourself and Europe will help you”. We have seen how France had to fight for nuclear energy to be included in the list of European green energies. We must take on the promotion of 100% French sectors. Although in certain sectors, such as semiconductors or aeronautics, European cooperation is essential.
Does the reindustrialization of France also mean the improvement of our education system?
School recovery is a must. Beyond the economic issue, education plays a key role in the cohesion of the country. In addition to the necessary salary increases for teachers, I am convinced that the Ministry of National Education should organize the systematic identification of the best teachers. The methods of these hundreds of thousands of “pedagogical geniuses,” whom each of us has known as a student and whom the administration ignores, must irrigate the continuing education of all teachers.