France: less austerity, more growth


By Eric Heyer

This text summarizes the OFCE’s 2013-2014 forecast for the French economy.

In 2013, the French economy should experience annual average growth of 0.2%, which means that by the end of the year its level of production should return to the level of six years earlier, at the end of 2007. This mediocre performance is very far from the trajectory that an economy recovering from a crisis should be on.

The French economy did however have great potential for recovery: average spontaneous growth of about 2.6% per annum over the period 2010-2013 was possible and would have allowed France to make up the output gap accumulated in 2008-2009. But this “recovery” has been hampered mainly by the introduction of budget savings plans in France and across Europe. For the single year 2013, this fiscal strategy will cut economic activity in France by 2.4 GDP points.

The understanding that the fiscal multipliers were high came late, and occurred only after the austerity plans had already had a negative impact on growth. At the end of May 2013, this awareness pushed the European authorities to give additional time to six EU countries, including France, to correct their excessive deficits. The easing of the Commission’s requirements provided a breath of fresh air that enabled the government to relax the austerity measures set for 2014. According to the budget presented in autumn 2013, the domestic impact of the austerity measures will be reduced by 0.5 GDP points between 2013 and 2014; since our partners are also relaxing their policies, a boost to external demand is also anticipated. Overall, the easing of austerity will mean the addition of almost one point of growth in 2014 compared to 2013, despite the still high fiscal multipliers.

In these conditions, growth should come to 1.3% in 2014 on an annual average. By running at a rate still below its potential, the forecast growth will add to the output gap accumulated since 2008 and will continue to hurt the labour market. The unemployment rate in metropolitan France will rise slightly, reaching 10.9% by end 2014.

As a result of the easing of austerity, the public deficit will be higher than what was initially planned. It is expected to come to 3.5% of GDP in 2014, after reaching 4.1% in 2013, with gross government debt near 95% of GDP next year.