When we want to bury a problem, it creates a commission. "It is no doubt more than time to forget this formula to Georges Clemenceau. The publication of the Pébereau report by the commission of the same name has dug up the subject of the public debt, until then the case of specialists, to give a new dimension. On this point, Thierry Breton has managed his coup. It is less sure that the Minister of finance will go from theory to practice, as shown by the words of Dominique de Villepin, martial principles but more cautious in concrete. A few days after, first lessons can be drawn from the work of the President of BNP Paribas and their home.
First lesson: a diagnosis shared, all guilty. It was not acquired that may be met around the same table of personalities right, left, of civil society, the business leaders and intellectuals. It was still more unlikely that they sign a text common which is not odourless and tasteless. Yet this is what happened: Philippe Herzog, ex-PC and Xavier Fontanet (Essilor), the PS Deputy Didier Migaud and Senator UMP Alain Lambert, Edouard Michelin and Nicole Notat, Jacques Julliard, Maria Nowak have agreed to try that "asphyxia" is not far away and that we are going right through the wall if nothing changes (debt would reach 100 of the GDP in 2014)(, compared to 66 today). Consensus favored by the fact that the report refers back to back all Governments weigh the stepping of each and other responsibilities.
Better yet, this College critical the increase in the number of staff from twenty years ( 955.000 including local communities and hospitals) and advocates radical solutions. A few years ago, the stabilization of the expenses of the State by volume, i.e. their evolution at the same pace as prices, was judged very rigorous. Today, the commission Pébereau goes further by advocating their value gel. In fact, that means a decline. Another note, the finding of seriousness collects a virtually unanimous in the media. The issue of public finances, absent from the campaign of 2002, is not that of 2007.
Second lesson: the fault is not European. This was not much noticed, but the report evokes little criteria of Maastricht and the stability pact. This choice is assumed. While the debate on public deficits turning ten years around the constraints posed by Brussels, Pebereau commission means that the constraint in this field is not external but internal. The situation "very worrying" has no other origin in France. There is nothing to seek a scapegoat-Envoy to Brussels.
The fact that most of the members of the commission are convinced pro-European relied. But this discretion is also based on a simple observation: the European constraint on deficit today of a paper tiger. Effective in the period before the birth of the euro, it is more since. In recent years, the Finance Ministers who went to the Elysee plead Maastricht rules have received only a polite welcome: the risk of currency crisis had disappeared, the plea is necessarily less effective. Remains whether the recent warnings of the international debt rating agencies could change the equation.
Third lesson: right, left, to each his cross. The "break" proposed to the authorities by the commission Pébereau is carefully dosed. The left, is asked to forget the increase of public expenditure as an instrument of political action. Whenever a new envelope of credits is clear, savings in old expenditures should be announced. The replacement of a part of the retirements is also part of its proposals. Finally, the report suggests that the State gives stakes in public companies, whose total value is estimated at EUR 100 billion. Among these assets, still a bit of France Telecom but also many EDF...
This shock therapy was accompanied by an effort on taxes, this time suggested to the right. Compulsory should be stabilized on the next five years. Which implies a cessation to the tax cuts. The message does not explicitly apply to relief for 2007 (income tax) or the promise of Jacques Chirac (VAT recovery) but it is clear. The real question not asked is the increase in taxes: the French should, as the Germans to pay more
Fourth lesson: no bipartisan consensus. The first political comments after the publication of the Pébereau report showed that it is not seriously disputed his diagnosis. But also that it is not a bipartisan consensus. Right and left are torn to accuse of laxity. The degradation has been the strongest under the Balladur Government and since 2002, firmly told the Socialists. Not at all, they are the ones who dug the accounts, for example by putting in place the 35 hours (it took companies), said Thierry Breton. To the right, the priority is to reduce the number of officials, François Hollande save on defence. The PS program, in any case, did not grow in this direction.
The majority also inside, disagreement exists between Nicolas Sarkozy, that too much time has been lost, and Dominique de Villepin, who wants too much to tie its hands. It is symptomatic that the Prime Minister already take his distances with the Pébereau report for 2007: the progression of the expenses of the State is not equal to zero, indicates Matignon, but a little higher. It is particularly difficult to how the Government, very careful so far, frankly would decrease the number of staff. For all these reasons, announce a multi-year law over presidential election, as it was envisaged, there would be no sense: its chances to be respected would be near zero.
Conclusion: the Pébereau report fell to to ripen the minds. It will however not applied for here in the presidential election. And then It is the quadrature of the circle. Only a team legitimized by the ballot box will be able to engage in the way of the relief of the public accounts; but the candidate that will put the austerity in the heart of his project has no chance of being elected. The temptation will be strong to round back hoping that strong growth will return which would in any event. A reality but should count: aging of the France will weigh increasingly on its ability to rebound.