“When we want to bury a problem, we create a commission” said Clemenceau. Taken to the extreme in recent years, this mania ended up taking its toll: Gabriel Attal promised in his general policy speech to remedy it by burying the Théodule committees caught in the act of inactivity. However, there is another recipe, which has a tough skin: when we want to bury a problem, we take out the checkbook. Our young Prime Minister even theorized it at the end of January: faced with the agricultural malaise, “it is better to give up 50 million now than 500 million two weeks later”. Eventually, he will have done both. A reactivity which allowed him to earn his stripes as a crisis general, by managing to put out the fire in the countryside. Financially, the bill is close to half a billion euros. A straw, some will say, in view of the despair of our peasants. One more plum, will respond the others, alarmed by the scale of our deficit.
“Tell the truth, then, and act”: the Prime Minister’s adage must now also apply to our public finances, which are in a pitiful state. For years, the executive has used recurring crises as a pretext (Covid, war in Ukraine, inflation, etc.) to renounce all budgetary wisdom, and extend the column of public spending, according to “whatever it costs”. The result is edifying, with a debt of 3,088 billion euros, a historic deficit (173 billion euros for the year 2023, or 100 billion additional compared to 2019, the year before Covid) and the obligation to go and borrow ever more on the financial markets to make ends meet.
Under these conditions, should we give up helping farmers? Certainly not, the urgency was there. But we are now waiting for the government to indicate as clearly as possible how to reduce – and not just control – public spending, which exceeds the European average by more than 10 points.
“We must demonstrate exemplary responsibility in our public finances,” promised Gabriel Attal to the deputies. Chick? This would be a first in a very long time. And yet, France no longer has a choice, with the reestablishment in 2024 of surveillance from Brussels – suspended since Covid – the very high risk of an upcoming downgrade of the country’s rating by financial agencies and the condition of its empty boxes. The French cicada could take its example from the “frugal” ants of Northern or Eastern Europe: for a quarter of a century, the most virtuous countries in budgetary matters (Poland, Netherlands, Germany, etc.) have experienced a growth in their per capita income much higher than that of the most lax countries. Well-ordered charity begins with oneself, without being synonymous with impoverishment… For this year, timid efforts are planned, but they are based on an already obsolete growth hypothesis. The great financier Bruno Le Maire will have to turn into a magician to save 12 billion euros in 2025: filling public accounts is always more complicated than emptying them.