It was undoubtedly the last hearing of Bruno Le Maire in the five-year period before the Finance Commission of the Senate. The Minister of Economy and Finance should have presented the results of the 2021 budget year on 1 February, but took the opportunity to outline his vision of economic and budgetary policy for the coming years. 68 days before the presidential elections, sometimes incisive questions animated the session.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, Bruno Le Maire does not hide the pleasure of boasting of the good numbers for the economic recovery. Revised to 7% for 2021, French growth clearly exceeds previous estimates. In November Bercy still counted on 6.25% and in June even on 5%. After the French economy was shut down during the 2020 confinements that caused GDP to drop by 8%, the minister refuses to see it as a simple recovery. “The rebound is not mechanical,” he says. According to him, without the massive accompanying partial unemployment measures and the solidarity fund, nor the recovery plan put in place in the autumn of 2020, growth would not have started so strongly. “This is the best result of the main eurozone countries,” he insists.
Aid to families in the face of soaring energy prices will continue “as long as necessary”
The 7% growth is reflected in public accounts. The deficit, forecast at € 205 billion, eventually drops to € 171 billion. The impact on GDP therefore fell from 8.2 to 7. The state made less use of emergency aid and recorded higher tax revenues, amounting to € 20 billion. “We were extremely clear, there is no flat. The totality of these 20 billion will be earmarked for the reduction of the public deficit and debt ”, insists the minister.
However, Bruno Le Maire is concerned about inflation, particularly energy prices. And the geopolitical tensions “do not suggest a decline in the coming months”, he fears. Assuming interventions to lighten households’ energy bills, he indicates that the government is ready to extend these measures, to contain these prices, “as long as necessary”.
Promise to honor a 3% deficit by … 2027
Very quickly, the minister moved away from the budget matters of 2021 and 2022 to go beyond. As “the main guidelines necessary to consolidate the economic situation”, he recommends going “further in reducing production taxes” to encourage the reindustrialisation of the country. He sets himself the ambitious goal of restoring the trade balance “within ten years”. And above all, to restore public finances, through growth and reforms. “Structural reforms are needed. We started with the unemployment insurance reform. It seems to me essential to continue with the pension reform, which must be an absolute priority for the consolidation of our public finances. “During the electoral deadline of 2022, he ensures that the goal of a deficit below the 3% of GDP bar, a European commitment,“ will be achieved ”.
The pension reform would almost be a refrain in the mouth of the minister. Centrist senator Jean-Marie Mizzon surprised. “Each time he stops at the same example: that of the pension reform. What other reforms are you thinking about? I will not give much to a government that would consider pension reform with the sole aim of saving. Bruno Le Maire challenges any purely economic logic, without advocating other ways of reform. “It’s also about simplifying, having a fairer system, for those who started working life early. “
“Sometimes I am surprised”: Bruno Le Maire settles accounts with the law, which accuses the manager of “burning the cash register”
Jean-François Husson (LR), general rapporteur of the finance committee, does not appreciate the fact that the government takes the credit for the growth trend, the extent of which he puts into perspective. “We are delighted to have growth that has returned to a good level. I will not enter the controversy, I think it does not erase everything. But I also want to remind you that it is a collective choice, which went beyond just the executive », recalls the senator of Meurthe-et-Moselle. Quite dry response from the minister to the right, who has been denouncing the budget slip since the autumn. “Sometimes I am a little surprised that the same people who voted for stimulus or support loans, loans guaranteed by the state, Solidarity Fund, partial activities, which – very often moreover, not to mention not all – have asked for a reconstitution of these appropriations, saying it is not enough, we need to do more, then come and scold us for burning the cash register. There is a small contradiction in the terms. Also, they are often the same people who still come back to my office asking for additional aid for their constituency or a number of businesses. “Vibration.
“There are contradictions”: exchange between Bruno Le Maire and Jean-François Husson
Others add their cautious voices. “I haven’t heard much about spending cuts,” notes Senator LR Christine Lavard. “Basic spending has increased over the five-year period. How to reach the 3% target? Bruno Le Maire assures that the movement is “demanding but possible”. “We have to free from five to six billion euros per year, or + 0.7% in volume per year, that’s what we did between 2017 and 2019”.
Since this is a European stability pact, the minister is questioned precisely about the future of the European treaties, in terms of budgetary rules. “The priority must go to investments”, defends Bruno Le Maire, at the beginning of the second month of French presidency of the Council of the European Union. The speech of several countries is “encouraging” on this topic. “To measure well the mental revolution that has taken place. “He also tastes the positions of the Italian Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, according to whom there can be different trajectories according to the States. The proposal is considered “relevant”.
Not even the minister spares himself on the left. “It is always difficult to hear that we have made 50 billion in tax cuts. Isn’t this cumulative tax cut in debt? Lowering taxes and paying for this decrease with debts seems to me questionable, ”replies the chairman of the commission, the socialist Claude Raynal. Among the communists, Pascal Savoldelli, dissatisfied with the fiscal gesture made in the direction of companies, denounces the government’s “incorrect and embellished budget”. Bruno Le Maire defends himself once again. “The results are there, I believe that the strategy we have chosen is the right one for the country […] By lowering taxes, you create the growth we need to reduce debt. “