Prime Minister’s general policy statement

Government’s general policy statement – Speech by M. Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister, to the National Assembly (excerpts)

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Paris, 4 July 2017

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen deputies,

“Despite a difficult destiny, I am – I remain – always optimistic. Life has taught me that with time, progress always prevails. It takes a long time, it’s slow, but ultimately I have trust.” Those are the words of Simone Veil. They were spoken in 1995, but they’re eternal, and they’re the words of France. They say how much effort and courage it takes for progress to come about. They also say how much trust and progress go hand in hand. (…)

New National Assembly

I see a younger Assembly, with more women, and one which is largely new, because 430 of you are setting foot in this place for the first time; an Assembly which bears the Republican heritage and resembles France.

And before this newly-appointed Assembly, ladies and gentlemen deputies, a government of parity is introducing itself – it too profoundly renewed through the diversity of its backgrounds, professional and political – and the French President has asked me to lead it.

I appreciate this honour. I also appreciate the responsibility of my task, and I approach it with great humility. (…)

New government

Our compatriots expressed tremendous hope by electing Emmanuel Macron President of the Republic. While major democracies were choosing self-absorption and turning their backs on the world, the French people, with the President, instead chose an open and conquering spirit. They were offered powerless nostalgia and they chose the bravery of facing up to the future. They had a choice between anger and trust; they expressed their anger, but they chose optimism and unity. (…)

To become itself again, France must restore trust, and first of all French people’s confidence in the government’s action. (…)

It’s about setting a framework that will enable us to clean up our public life and restore French people’s trust while laying down clear rules for elected representatives.

That’s the purpose of the first bill that has been submitted to you. As the President said yesterday, during the year we’ll also be launching the institutional reforms essential for modernizing our democracy.

Judicial reform/prisons

I’ll be emphasizing judicial reform in particular. (…) Constitutional reform will strengthen judges’ independence. From 2018 onwards, a five-yearly judicial resources estimates bill will be presented to Parliament. This bill will enable the Keeper of the Seals to embark on a vast effort of digitization, simplification and reorganization.

Having trust in the judicial system means being able to use it easily and knowing it will take decisions swiftly, in particular on the most serious offences: [by] combating terrorism, serious crime, organized fraud and violence, particularly against the most vulnerable people. (…)

Building an additional 15,000 prison places is a strong commitment by the President. It will be honoured. (…)

Social security/health

Restoring trust also means reassuring French people about the future of social security. Social security is a part of ourselves. It is, as the phrase nicely puts it, the property of those who have no property. (…)

Prevention will be the crux of the national health strategy that will be debated in the autumn. (…) Next year, small children’s vaccinations that are unanimously recommended by the health authorities will become compulsory.

On the fight against smoking, too, we must take brave decisions. (…) We’ll gradually increase the price of a packet of cigarettes to €10, fighting relentlessly against the trafficking that undermines this health policy as much as it weakens those who abide by the law. (…)

But prevention isn’t enough. We’ll also have to review the way our care system is organized. (…) We must build care pathways encouraging health professionals to be interconnected and information to be transmitted for the benefit of patients, creating new incentives and new forms of remuneration, measuring the quality of care and making it known. The social security finance bill will put this goal into practice this year.

Our health strategy will also have to enable us to guarantee equal access to care, not only by law but above all in practice. The Health Minister is preparing, for September, a plan to combat “medical deserts”, in close agreement with the regional authorities and stakeholders in the medical world. In this regard, telemedicine offers tremendous opportunities. We’ll support them.

Lastly, our health strategy will have to break the vicious circle of “giving up care”. By the end of the five-year term, all French people will have access to free provision of glasses, dental care and hearing aids. (…)

From 2018 onwards we’ll increase the value of adult disability allowance and the minimum income for elderly people, simplify procedures for people entitled to benefits, who often – through despair or ignorance – stop claiming them. We’ll step up our action to combat poverty, focusing on families with young children especially.

These financial efforts are necessary: they won’t be sufficient. We must also recognize and support familial, emotional and financial solidarity. (…) So we’ll stop regarding families as mere fiscal balancing items. The Minister for Solidarity and Health will present measures improving maternity leave and childcare solutions. This is also consistent with the great national cause of gender equality.

The inclusion of disabled people will be one of the priorities of the five-year term. (…)

Local government

Restoring trust also means consolidating the link between government and the regions. (…) We want to make local freedoms as strong as possible.

The freedom to organize, first of all, by developing new communes or groupings of departments, provided these mergers are not contrary to the general interest. Secondly, the freedom to exercise powers: let’s dare to experiment! (…) Let’s urge regions to adapt their organization locally in order to move, wherever possible, towards just two levels of local administration below regional level. (…)

As regards local finance, we’ll embark on the essential discussions with local government, because while everyone must, of course, contribute to the effort to put our public accounts back on a sound footing, it must be done through dialogue and respectfully. (…) In this framework we’ll embark on consultation about reforming the residence tax. (…)

To improve provision for local government while giving purchasing power back to citizens is a goal that should bring us together.

Restoring trust also means not driving a wedge between two aspects of France which some would like to pit against each other but which can neither live nor succeed alone: the France of globalized metropolises and the peripheral France. That’s the whole purpose of the National Conference of Territories, whose first meeting will be held in mid-July. There we’ll propose a pact for local governments, to support them in the ecological transition and the digital transition. (…)

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Secularism/culture

Trust, lastly, is about everything that brings us together. France is a nation. (…) A nation comprises an adherence to values, to a history and a geography. It’s a culture that is accepted and handed down. To be French is to recognize values and share a culture.

It’s to recognize that laïcité [secularism] (1) means a requirement for the public authorities: to show absolute neutrality towards religions. It’s also to recall that for everyone on the Republic’s territory it means, above all, freedom – freedom of individual conscience, freedom to believe or not believe, freedom to practise a religion or to follow none. (…)

What brings us together is also culture. It’s our language, it’s our heritage. (…)

Education in culture and creativity from the earliest age makes people free. By familiarizing them with the long history of the arts, by making them discover places of culture, by teaching them to decipher the era and discover our heritage, we elevate our children’s souls and strengthen our country’s cohesiveness. Together, the Minister of National Education and the Minister of Culture will make this project a shared priority.

Counter-terrorism/defence

Courage: that’s the second central objective behind the government’s work. Let’s be clear: it’s not about the courage of the government, of the majority or of Parliament, but the courage we French people must show collectively in order to be equal to challenges.

The French are brave. They’ve been brave in the face of terrorism. (…) In our country there’s a sort of quiet but genuine courage we can be proud of.

The threat is everywhere, diffuse. (…)

I want to pay tribute to all those – police, gendarmes, soldiers in Operation Sentinelle – whom we see every day ensuring our safety, those fighting in external theatres of operations, in the Sahel or the Levant, and all those we don’t see and will never know, our soldiers in the shadows, of whom we can be proud. Many have fallen in the service of our freedom.

I want to tell them, all of them, that we’ll give them the means to defend us. As the President has pledged, a military estimates bill will be adopted in 2018. It will increase the defence effort to 2% of GDP by 2025 and enable France to fight on all fronts.

But I want to tell you plainly: there will be more attacks, more tragedies, more innocent lives struck down. (…) Like the French people, we’ll face this threat with calm and cool determination. We’ll combat terrorism with the utmost severity, without disavowing what we are: a law-based state and, moreover, the French Republic.

It’s a Republic, ladies and gentlemen deputies, which can’t live in a permanent state of emergency. That’s why the President has asked us to prepare to end the state of emergency by 1 November 2017 at the latest, with a bill to increase the effectiveness of our legislative arsenal against terrorism, under strict judicial control. (…)

Migration

Courage also means facing up to the migration challenge. The pressure being exerted at the borders, in the Alpes-Maritimes, in the Calais area, in Mayotte, in French Guiana, and also at the very heart of the country, as in Paris, is creating considerable tension, which is fraught with dangers for public order. This pressure won’t let up. (…)

In the face of this situation, France has shown itself incapable of fulfilling its legal and moral obligations. Asylum seekers actually covered by the Geneva Convention wait for many months to be granted status, sometimes in shameful conditions. Others who are actually economic migrants are rarely removed when they lose their cases.

Next week, the government will present measures addressing three requirements: a requirement for dignity so that France honours its tradition of welcoming refugees, a requirement for efficiency in order to reduce average processing times for asylum applications from 14 months to six and ensure that those refused asylum are actually removed, and a requirement for solidarity and responsibility. Together with our European partners, we’ll carry through the reform of the European asylum system and take action vis-à-vis countries of origin and transit. (…)

Social model

Courage also means finally modernizing our social model. (…)

This is why we want to modernize our social model: so that it creates genuinely effective protection, instead of guaranteeing it only on paper; and so that it supports those who want to take risks, instead of targeting only those who are already established. (…)

On 6 June, the Minister of Labour and I shared with the social partners the road map for this social modernization. It’s based on four points: stepping up social dialogue in businesses and in branches, restoring purchasing power to employees, making their professional careers more secure and making our pensions system fairer and more transparent. (…)

This week the period of parliamentary debate will begin, with an examination of the enabling bill on strengthening social dialogue. At the end of the summer the decision-making period will come, when the statutes will be published.

In October, we’ll get started on work to reinforce vocational training, open up unemployment insurance to people who have resigned and self-employed workers, and overhaul apprenticeships. Here too, we’ll have genuine discussions with the two sides of industry and present a bill and an action plan in the spring of 2018.

We’ll apply the same method to modernizing our pensions system, to make it fairer and more transparent. (…) We’ll set the framework for the reform at the end of 2018.

In the meantime, we’ll have restored purchasing power to employees: the abolition of salary contributions to health insurance and unemployment insurance, funded by a transfer to the CSG [supplementary social security contribution in aid of underprivileged people], will restore purchasing power to more than 20 million employees from 2018 onwards. (…) We’ll also increase the business premium, because the message to French people is clear: work must pay.

Economy

Courage, finally, means facing the truth about our financial situation. (…) The picture is serious: €8 billion of unfunded expenditure. (…) Each year, France spends €42 billion on repaying its interest. €42 billion is more than the entire budget we devote to our national defence. It’s five times the budget for justice. (…)

Whereas our German friends collect €100 in taxes and spend €98, we collect €117 and spend €125. How can anyone think this situation is sustainable?

Ladies and gentlemen, under the worried gaze of French people, we’re dancing on a volcano that is rumbling ever more loudly. (…)

A French addiction to public spending exists. (…)

The French people no longer believe in simplistic solutions. (…) They see clearly that all our European partners made the effort to reduce their expenditure following the financial crisis. All except us. (…)

My aim is to bring the deficit back under the 3% [of GDP] threshold in 2017 and lead our public finance strategy on the basis of three simple rules: to reduce fiscal pressure by one GDP point over five years, to reduce public expenditure by three GDP points over the same period and to take action by making stakeholders more visible. (…)

Taxpayers won’t be the budget’s balancing item. On the contrary, compulsory contributions will be reduced by €20 billion by 2022. France can’t continue to be the champion of both public spending and taxes. (…)

To achieve these public expenditure targets, we’ll have to act on three levers. Firstly, we’ll have to halt inflation in the public sector wage bill, which accounts for a quarter of our public expenditure.

Secondly, if we want to fund our priorities and not continue improverishing the state, we’ll have to make choices and call certain projects into question. (…) We’ll dispel inefficient spending and focus funds on fewer projects.

Lastly, we’ll have to rethink those public policies which are a burden on our employees and don’t produce enough results. We spend twice as much as our European neighbours on housing assistance, and French people still experience just as many difficulties getting accommodation. (…)

This week, the Minister of Public Action and Accounts will bring together all the government departments to mark out a route and a comprehensive method of financial recovery. (…)

In the autumn, the government will present both the budget for 2018 and a public finance estimates bill which will focus on the whole five-year term. This trajectory will have to balance social security by 2020. (…)

Finally, we will have to maintain the balance of our pension system, whilst making it fairer and more transparent. (…)

To meet these objectives, we must begin genuinely transforming the state and our public services. (…)

France, ladies and gentlemen deputies, must once again adopt a conquering spirit. On the economic front, first of all. (…)

With the reforms we are proposing, we want to go back to being number one in terms of attractiveness, growth and job creation. An attractive economy is one where charges do not act as a brake on the dynamism of those who create wealth.

Businesses must rediscover the desire to set up and develop on our soil rather than elsewhere. In the very next few days, the Mayor of Paris, the President of the Ile-de-France region and I will be announcing strong measures to make Paris more attractive as a financial centre.

To promote recruitment, we will lower the cost of [payroll] charges imposed on labour, particularly those earning close to the guaranteed minimum wage. The credit d’impôt pour la compétitivité et l’emploi [competitiveness and employment tax credit] – CICE – will be converted into a reduction in charges; these will be nil for those on the guaranteed minimum wage. This reform will come into force on 1 January 2019.

Corporation tax will be reduced in stages from 33.3% today to 25% in 2022. So it will converge towards the European average. (…)

We also want to ease the constraints weighing down on our entrepreneurs, particularly on self-employed workers and micro- and small-and-medium-sized enterprises. (…)

A conquering economy is also an economy which invests in the future. So we must redirect French people’s savings towards productive investment. The impôt de solidarité sur la fortune [wealth tax] will be limited to property assets to encourage investment in business growth. The reform will be adopted this year in the finance act for 2018 and will come into force in 2019. (…)

A tax system at the service of business is important, but investing in future sectors is even more crucial. This is why we are launching a major €50-billion investment plan in the areas of the ecological transition, skills development, health, transport, agriculture and the modernization of the state. (…)

Investing in the future also means supporting our industry. I’ve never been impressed by those who dream of an industry without factories, and never convinced by those who envisage a France with no industry. (…)

Some of our industries, such as aerospace, are already remarkably well integrated and at the forefront of technology, but we have a great deal of manufacturing firms which are often too small and too isolated from groups which would allow them to flourish. So we have to forge a powerful manufacturing network of SMEs and MSBs [mid-sized businesses] and support its export development.

It will also be our job to get the most we can out of the opportunities opened up by the digital revolution, which must give everyone a chance: entrepreneurs who create start-ups, of course, but also the micro and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises; those born into the digital revolution and those left behind by it.

The artificial intelligence revolution lies ahead of us; in actual fact it is already here. (…) We must prepare ourselves for it, making it a disruptive opportunity and not enduring it as if it is a destructive inevitability. (…)

Climate/Paris Agreement

The return to a conquering spirit also means enthusiastically embracing the incredible challenge posed by the world’s major shifts, foremost among which is the ecological transition. Those who are turning their backs on the Paris Agreement on the climate, either through selfishness or lack of awareness, demonstrate more than just a failure to understand the world: they show that they are basically afraid of the future. (…)

So it is up to us to prepare our country and our planet for this new era; not to passively endure it, but to shape it. (…)

Our relationship with resources must be radically altered. Our course will be simple to map out, but ambitious and demanding: we want to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. (…)

Another area where profound change is required is housing. In order to build more homes, in the autumn a law will simplify procedures, particularly in the most dynamic employment catchment areas. Planning permission procedures will be speeded up and penalties issued for abusive litigation. (…)

Agriculture

French farmers aren’t afraid of change. They want to live off their work, their land and their skills. The conference on the food industry will see shared value in the agricultural system again: it is unacceptable for farmers not to be paid a decent income and for them to be living below the poverty line. It’s unacceptable, but commonplace.

This must also be the battle we wage for tomorrow’s Common Agricultural Policy. The conference will have to boost our trust in healthier food, think out and build our future systems, among other things by genuinely looking at the issue of pesticides and endocrine disrupting chemicals. (…)

Europe

Finally, a conquering France is one that is heeded, respected and sought after. (…) France is back, especially in Europe. (…)

The current government’s European agenda is based on three ideas. Firstly, do everything to restore French people’s faith in the European Union. Secondly, work for a Europe which protects, a Europe which will be supported by a more effectively governed Euro Area and be able to make progress on its defence policy, social convergence – particularly the regulations on posted workers – and a reciprocal trade policy, with no illusions. Finally, prepare the three crucial negotiations for the future of the EU: redefining our project for 27 members, with Germany and those of our partners who would like to forge ahead; the orderly negotiation of the United Kingdom’s exit as a precondition to the framework of the future relationship; and the financial perspectives for the future of post-2020 EU policies.

France/economic recovery

Finally, the President recalled yesterday that we don’t envisage our country’s recovery without an international policy which restores to France its status as a globally influential power.

The spirit of conquest is also about us being able to attract the brainpower of tomorrow by welcoming ever-increasing numbers of students from all over the world to enrich and spread our technical know-how, language and identity. It’s about attracting increasing wealth thanks to what we offer in the way of tourism, which is a major economic asset. It’s about showing the world who we are by organizing major events during which the eyes of the planet will be on us. Paris’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games has rallied the whole of France around sport and its values. Hosting these Olympics will, I hope, provide a unique opportunity to strengthen Paris as a financial centre and France as a leader in the world. (…)

None of the challenges of modernity should frighten us. The hopes which have been raised form the basis of our responsibility. It’s in this hope, ladies and gentlemen deputies, that I ask you to place your trust. And this is why, Mr President, in accordance with the provisions of Article 49-1 of our constitution, I have the honour of committing the government to this general policy statement./.

(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.

Published on 17/07/2017

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