The public debate on the distribution of efforts while facing crises
Private jets scandals, controversies over the tax on superprofits, small crisis within the majority to have the pension reform adopted in Parliament… Since September, the debates have followed one another around one question: how to distribute the essential efforts between the privileged, businesses and citizens in order to fight against global warming and slow down the deterioration of public finances. Faced with this central issue, which challenges all public policies and permanently offers angles of attack to the opposition against the government, the latter is struggling to adopt a coherent political line and communication strategy.
It all started with an ordinary press conference for the Paris Saint-Germain football club. To the criticism of the means of transport of the famous team, barely returned from a match in Nantes, the PSG coach, Christophe Galtier, replied, hilarious: “This morning we spoke with the company that organizes our trips, and we’re trying to see if we can travel by sand yacht”. The star player of the team, Killian Mbappé, at his sides, burst out laughing. Shortly before, other French star player Karim Benzema caused a scandal on social networks by showing off his various private jets, racing cars and jet skis.
The government showed disapproval by summoning the club’s leaders, and managed to get them to declare their intention to become more serious in the future when it came to use of energy. The coach then issued a public apology in an interview. Nevertheless, the debate has started and is rising all over social media. At the time when the French are asked to “wear turtleneck sweaters” while spending the winter at 19°C, or to cut off Wifi before going to bed, carbon consumption of the rich is controversial. This is highlighted by the initiative of Internet users, who mapped out the private flights of major French bosses, such as Vincent Bolloré, Martin Bouygues or Bernard Arnault through the account “I fly Bernard”.
An even more controversial debate took over: the taxation of superprofits made by certain companies whose results soared thanks to imbalances and shortages caused by successive crises, including those of the maritime transport and energy giants. A nice opportunity for the executive to highlight the extreme diversity of its sensibilities: punchline enthusiast Bruno Le Maire declared in front of the leaders gathered at Longchamp that he did not know “what’s a superprofit”. Elisabeth Borne repeated several times she did not exclude any option, and President Emmanuel Macron replied that the problem must be handled at the European level. This will be done but will not prevent the subject from being a major topic in the budgetary debate the coming weeks, the opposition deeming the Commission’s proposals too timid.
In the meantime, the President of the Republic has opened another frontline by indicating, on the fringes of a meeting with the presidential press, that the pension reform could be submitted as early as October to the Parliament via amendments to the Social Security Financing Act, confirming the confidences distilled by his entourage throughout the summer. Ironically, at the exact same time he set up the National Council of Refoundation, for which he entrusted the responsibility to his main political ally François Bayrou. The latter, furious, cleary expressed his refusal to force the reform through an amendment, and cancelled his participation to the launch meeting of the new presidential party on September 24th. He continued the next day with a quality media plan, including Europe1’s « Grand Rendez-vous » and an interview to the newspaper Le Parisien. The union organizations had the same reaction, even those the most open to dialogue. When it came to French employers, who definitely do not see why such a reform would be urgent, they also discreetly disapproved. It took a dinner at the Elysee with the Government’s main members as well as the presidential majority for the Prime minister to announce to the AFP at night that a bill would be introduced based on the suggestions made by the President of the Republic during his presidential campaign. Legal retirement age raised to 65 years, abrogation of the state owned companies plans and a minimum monthly pension of 1100 €: the bill will be introduced in January after 3 months of dialogues and voted before the summer.
This dialogue and a parliamentary debate promise to be difficult, if not to say dangerous. Especially if it is the way an ordinary bill that is adopted instead of a Social Security Financing Amending Bill.
Justifying the urgency of the reform with the necessity to finance certain public policies such as the “dependency” policies, the executive is reopening the discussion on the effort-sharing. Why put the burden on the working population alone and leave the privileged, the retired and the companies out of national solidarity? But this also weakens the argument that is most likely to convince public opinion: the need to ensure the sustainability of the pension system itself. Finally, by preferring, for symbolic but also financial reasons, to raise the legal retirement age rather than extend the contribution period, the government is favoring political confrontation over a pragmatic approach: unless it wishes to retain the possibility of making a (seemingly) major concession to the social partners at the end of the consultation.
In any case, these three almost concomitant debates show that the Executive will only be able to get through the 2023 budget and the pension reform, the two major targets, if it makes its effort-sharing strategy explicit and actively explains it. This should be the priority of its communication in the coming weeks!