While the welfare state seems to be acclaimed by the political class, including on the right, the president of the group Republicans in the Senate, Bruno Retailleau, shuts down the bureaucracy and demands that the French work more.
The Covid-19 crisis seems to signal the return of the welfare state. Do you agree ?
The state’s first reaction to the crisis was spending. We nationalized the salaries of more than 10 million French people. This powerful, massive state reaction was necessary to prevent the French economy from sinking. Without it, today’s destruction of growth would not have been temporary but final. But what this crisis has also revealed is an obese, omnipresent and yet helpless state.
That is to say ?
The bureaucracy has tied up the state. Because of its complexity and excess, the state paralyzed and was unable to order masks or tests. France is the champion of public and social spending, of taxation, and yet our healthcare staff were under-equipped. They were forced to carve out overcoats from trash bags. Our hospital is underfunded. The first truth that we owe to the French is that the level of public spending is not a guarantee of efficiency. Look at Germany: the share of its public expenditure in relation to its national wealth is 10% less than that of France. However, Germany has been able to create 40,000 new resuscitation beds compared to 12,000 in France, German nurses are paid 20% more than their French colleagues and there is no shortage of masks or tests across the Rhine.
Should the German model be used as an example?
Each nation has its own model. But stimulus cannot just be spending, that is, taxes and debt. During the 2008 crisis, it took us almost five years to return to the level of wealth before. There, it will probably take a decade. It is not by working less that we will get out of it.
What do you propose ?
What I am proposing is a prosperity pact to get out of the crisis. We must move to an annual working time of 1700 hours against 1600 currently, that is to say about 37 hours per week. This will allow an employee around the minimum wage to earn € 730 more each year. I propose to tax and fully discharge the overtime hours which should not, as is the case today, the activity bonus. This would save an additional € 440 per employee per year. In all, for an employee on minimum wage, this represents the equivalent of a 13th month’s salary. But in order not to weaken businesses, I also want to lower production taxes. Finally, we must restore momentum to this great idea of participation, by merging it with profit-sharing in companies with fewer than 500 employees. Employees’ earnings could be paid monthly and fully tax exempt for amounts of less than € 1,000.
Will civil servants also have to switch to 37 hours?
We have 80 civil servants per 1,000 inhabitants, Germany, 60. Does the quality of our public services reflect this difference? No. Civil servants will have to be asked to work 37 hours to save on the wage bill. It is not only a question of expenditure but also of organization. To take back our destiny in hand, I make three proposals. First, the debureaucratisation of the state, waging a total war against the 400,000 standards that paralyze action. Then decentralization, because proximity is efficiency. Finally, the relocation of our vital activities, such as sanitation, food or energy. We must launch a great plan to regain our sovereignty.
Does François Fillon’s idea of reducing the number of civil servants by 500,000 in five years still hold water?
Today, in the crisis we are going through, this figure is impossible to achieve, even if it will be necessary to reduce the size of the administrative public service. We will not cut it if we want to finance the investments for the future that we lack and lower the charges that discourage hiring.
What do you suggest for those who will lose their jobs?
When there is a crisis as deep as the one we are experiencing, we must be able to adjust unemployment benefits, which must be higher than in a period when there is more work.
Are you worried about a “drift” in your political family that could be tempted by public spending?
I will be worried if we make, as yesterday, the choice of ease and demagoguery. We must tell the truth to the French. After a great ordeal, the path to the start always requires courage.