François Hollande’s five years in office: Stagnation or recovery?

By OFCE

The five-year term of French President Francois Hollande has been marked by serious economic difficulties, but also by some signs of improvement in the last year of his mandate. Overall, France experienced low growth from 2012 to 2014, mainly due to the fiscal consolidation policy, with moderate growth after that (see: OFCE, Policy Brief, no2, September 5th, 2016).

The scale of the fiscal shock at the start of Hollande’s mandate, when the government underestimated the negative impact on growth, proved to be incompatible with a fall in unemployment during the first half of the mandate.

The effort to improve France’s public finances involved a major fiscal adjustment, even though the target of a 3% public deficit was put off till the end of Hollande’s term in office. According to the calculations of the European Commission, France’s structural balance (i.e. the balance adjusted for cyclical effects) will have improved by 2.5 points over the 2012-2016 period. This effort did not however prevent the public debt from reaching a historic peak and from diverging significantly from the level in Germany.

Fiscal consolidation in France and in Europe had a marked negative impact, amounting to 0.8 point per year on average between 2012 and 2017. The simultaneity of the austerity policies enacted in Europe amplified their recessionary impact by depressing domestic demand, but also external demand.

The economic policy of the governments led by Ayrault and Valls was initially marked by a significant period of rising taxation, on both companies and households, followed by a shift towards a supply policy in 2014. This policy, embodied in the Responsibility Pact and the CICE tax credit, is bearing fruit late in Hollande’s term, as business margins improve, although household purchasing power and short-term growth have been hurt.

After a period marked by a significant downturn in business margins, they picked up over the first four years of the five-year term by the equivalent of 1 point in added value thanks to tax measures, and one additional point due to lower oil prices. The profit margin in industry even reached a level comparable to the historical records of the early 2000s.

Based on our forecasts for the five-year mandate as a whole, ILO-measured unemployment will have increased by about 100,000 people, despite the creation of 720,000 jobs, due to the lack of growth, combined with an increase in the labour force.

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