The Attali plan to boost economic growth in France is out, and President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that he plans to implement most of it. The plan consists of 316 measures designed to administer an electric shock to the French economy, currently on track to deliver just under 2 percent growth in GDP this year. Sarkozy, who named Jacques Attali (former advisor to socialist president Francois Mitterrand) to head the commission, said this week that he supported most of the conclusions and would convene a ministerial commission next month to decide which measures would be implemented first. The only two points he rejected outright were Attali’s opposition to the precautionary principle (which is enshrined in the French constitution) and his recommendation to do away with the administrative grid of France which breaks the country up into departments.
Some of the measures included liberalising the retail sector to break down barriers to entry and remove price protection, opening up protected profession such as taxi drivers, focusing research and development tax credits on sectors such as technology, health and nanotechnology and the construction of eco-towns between now and 2012. One controversial recommendation was to boost immigration to target sectors which are unable to meet demand, such as the construction sector.
Opposition to the plan comes from many quarters, notably from environmental NGOs, who have protested that the plan is at odds with the final consensus which emerged from last year’s Grenelle on the environment. Les Echos ran an opinion piece this week by its oldest editorialist, Favilla, questioning the logic of a government which appears to be saying that it can pursue a growth-at-any-cost strategy alongside a strategy to marry economic growth with sustainability and the safeguarding of biodiversity. He points to the fact that Sarkozy announced earlier this month that he had sought advice from Nobel economists Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz on a revamp of the way France calculates its GDP to factor in quality of life elements and asks: “How should we reconcile the productivist orientation which is at the heart of the Attali report with the exactly opposed logic of the Grenelle on the environment and that which underlies the order issued to Nobel prizes Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz to rethink the very concept of Gross Domestic Product?” Ironically, the issue of “green” economic indicators was dealt with in one of the working groups at the Grenelle, but somehow never made it into the final conclusions.
“When one has to choose between Attali and Sen,” writes Favilla, “we are not longer in the realm of the sectorial. These are two systemic strategies which are hanging in the balance.”