Opinion : a trailer for the next five years?

Opinion : a trailer for the next five years?

Jul 7, 2022
For her first speech in the National Assembly, Elisabeth Borne presented an uninspired programme for the next five years.
Volt France - Tribune - La bande-annonce pour le prochain quinquennat ?

(by Sven Franck and Fabiola Conti, co-presidents of Volt France)

> The government has presented an uninspired programme for the next five years.

> Solutions for our ailing democracy and climate change are not forthcoming.

> How can we be nationalist and pro-European at the same time?

July, 7th 2022

Yesterday, Elisabeth Borne gave her first speech at the National Assembly to present the government's priorities for the next five years. Volt questions the ambition of the majority and its willingness to make real progress on urgent issues and regrets the absence of the European dimension in the speech of a government, which claims to be "pro-European".

Volt also denounces the NUPES parties who, in light of the far right trying to present themselves as democratic actors, have in one day filed a motion of censure, have taken a stand against electronic voting in foreign constituencies and have had the audacity to organise a Punch and Judy show in front of the assembly. At a time when France needs courage and will, we are sorely lacking a left-wing movement that does not resort to clowning around as a primary means of engaging in political discourse.

Not enough solutions for a sick democracy

Elisabeth Borne acknowledged that, given the record abstention, our democracy is in a dire state. However, she did not make any proposals to improve the situation: proportional voting, single ballots, voting rights for European citizens, remote or electronic voting across France - there are many ways to revitalise a democracy and give voters reasons and means to express their vote, but alas, nothing has been proposed. The government likewise missed the opportunity to show its European spirit by not referencing the proposals made in March 2022 by the European Commission for Constitutional Affairs to harmonise European elections and introduce transnational lists. Has pan-Europeanism come to an end with the end of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union?

Our democracy cannot progress if we do not address its shortcomings. In the recently published World Democracy Index 2022, France rightly continues to be an imperfect democracy.

Ms Borne stressed the government's willingness to reintroduce the word "compromise" into our political life, but we must also be careful with whom these compromises are made. With a shared responsibility for dismantling the Republican front, the majority must find its allies without resorting to compromises with extremists. Again, a look at our European neighbours may show ways to keep these extremes at bay, notably by taking ownership of their main issues. The German government, for example, has put a lot of effort into de-demonising migration, focusing on integration and education, while our prime minister and the majority promise border forces and a fight against migration - at the national level - thus continuing to prevent a much-needed solution from being found at the European level.

Investing instead of spending to stabilise purchasing power

Purchasing power is a major concern and our government has done much to contain inflation. However, this public spending, for example to keep gas prices on reasonable levels, will have to be recovered in the long run and the Prime Minister has already pointed out that France will have to reduce its debt from 2026 onwards in order to meet its targets and not exceed 3% of GDP in 2027. Instead of spending to stabilise prices, other countries in Europe are trying to use public money for building long-term solutions. For example, Germany sold more than 21 million 9-euro tickets in June that give free access to all public transport and regional trains for a month as an incentive to use public transport rather than buying petrol, while Austria is distributing vouchers according to individual household needs to support the poorest and most car-dependent people first. The coming years will require a significant reduction in energy use and consumption. Government spending to tackle inflation should therefore also help to put us on a more sustainable path while protecting the weakest, rather than simply freezing prices.

In the same vein, we welcome the scrapping of the TV licence fee, but remind our government that a healthy democracy also needs independent media. We have seen the power that media conglomerates can wield in the US and the UK.  France is not far behind and ensuring media independence at national and European level must be a priority for any government serious about improving the state of democracy.

The future of work?

The government rightly congratulates itself on running the country on relatively low unemployment figures. But otherwise, we are a long way from the 'good' working conditions envisaged by Ms Borne, which should include wages that allow a decent living from an honest work. We are also still far from equal pay for women and men. Furthermore, there are no national regulations for working from home, workers in the gig economy remain without social security coverage and will face impoverishment which will be future burden on the public hand, and finally, workers are still not represented on company boards, a measure which has shown positive effects on equality, competitiveness and profitability of companies. We also do not believe in forced labour as suggested by the government for RSA recipients and prefer to reward voluntary work in associations. In this context, the rebranding of Pôle Emploi as "France Travail" also evokes nationalistic images of forced labour from the past that should have no place in today's France.

A sustainable pension system

Volt agrees on the need to reform our pension system towards a single system where the retirement age follows the European average (64.2 years for men, 63.5 years for women). We also call for any reform to distinguish between physically and mentally demanding occupations that allow to retire earlier, for pensions to include inflation indexation, to include compensation for child raising and elderly care, and for a transition period to compensate for inequalities in the current system, such as in teachers' pay.

An ecology of what progress?

Volt is extremely disappointed with the government's green agenda, its lack of renewal and ambition. While President Macron announced that the Prime Minister would also be responsible for ecological planning, we found no planning in her speech. It is no longer enough to repeat the 2050 targets when time is running out to achieve them. Why organise a new consultation after ignoring many of the demands of the citizens' climate convention during the last five years? Instead of taking bold measures, does the majority want to hide its responsibility behind a new consultation? Is the nationalisation of EDF, in which the state already holds 84%, a bailout to shift the burden of the energy transition and the high cost of nuclear waste treatment onto the public? Yes, the railways must be the backbone of transport, but where are the investments similar to the 80 billion euros that Germany is going to invest in its railway infrastructure? Yes, we must recycle, but why are we one of the few countries in Europe without a deposit system for plastic and glass packaging and why does our construction sector produce so much more waste than other EU countries? Where are the incentives for our economy to reduce its environmental footprint and how are they held accoutable? Renewable energy? The vote to exclude gas from the green taxonomy? Neonicotinoids? Sustainable agriculture that can feed our population? Accelerating the pace of renovation of our housing stock to meet expectations? Measures to mitigate the effects of climate change in France and overseas? To protect our coasts? To ensure the availability of fresh water? The government's mission should be to prevent the next "extinction" of which we will be a part, not to administer it.

Free tickets for museums for the youth?

Volt welcomes the ambition to make youth a key topic for the next five years, inspired by Ursula von der Leyen who made a similar statement in her last State of the Union speech. Childcare places in nurseries and support for single parents are sorely lacking in France. However, we do not believe that easier access to culture will be the magic solution, which will give our youth the certainty that their expectations and their future play a role in the government's principal preoccupations. In addition to safeguarding the planet on which our young people should one day live on, our education system needs to be overhauled, both in terms of valuing and training our educational workforce but also in terms of giving everyone a free education and the chance to succeed in life. For Volt, this must include, for example, harmonising school education at the European level, so that a French baccalaureate allows to study anywhere in Europe (and vice-versa), and abandoning student loans in favour of a system to finance studies or employment programmes - the equivalent of a minimum income as an incentive to study or learn a profession. Finally, we also believe that a Universal National Service should remain voluntary and we believe that in staying with our republican spirit, youth should be remuneration for their engagement in civil associations as a means to reconcile them with the political sphere along of offering better access to education and by more ways of participation in democracy, for example by extending the right to vote at 16.

Health services with Covid

The health plans are moving in the right direction. We need more staff to be ready to deal with future waves of Covid or other epidemics that will be inevitable. Much of our health sector is burnt out and considering changing professions - the Great Resignation is also happening here in France. But compensating for the loss of staff does not absolve the government from stepping up its efforts to manage not just Covid but healthcare in general. Volt believes that we need a permanent Segur: our medical sector is changing and we need a truly coordinated approach to decide on the direction to take. Prevention is a key objective for Volt as well, but this discourse is sorely lacking in more concrete proposals on how air quality, housing and living conditions will be improved. Will this be managed centrally, such as the number of doctors to be provided for our system (or not)? How do we want to give our seniors the ability to remain independent? 

We recognise the change in position regarding the deconjugalisation of the disabled adults' allowance, but considering that our National Assembly is not even wheelchair accessible, we have long neglected accessibility and a truly equal society. Given the delay, we expect many more proposals.

Jacobin decentralisation

We are also surprised that decentralisation in this five-year period is reduced to giving more power to local elected representatives. In addition to not specifying how this will be done, the Jacobin way of governing the country has repeatedly failed to meet the needs. We have created bureaucratic regions with regional councils without the competences to become important political actors. We elect our presidents, our assemblies, our regional and departmental councils and our mayors, but not the presidents of the intercommunalities and EPCIs who wield enormous power without being truly accountable. We have 36,000 communes in France, almost 40% of all local administrative units in Europe, and while they are all in the process of dematerialisation, the government is far from proposing significant reforms to make public administration evolve and adapt it to the reality on the ground. There is no shortage of issues - from the preservation of our regional identities and cultures to the introduction of true subsidiarity at national level - that would benefit from a government prepared to move forward with reforms, democratisation and true decentralisation of our public administration. Instead, with the abolition of the taxe d'habitation, municipalities are deprived of their main income and depend on compensation payments from Paris. Volt therefore regrets that our government preaches decentralisation, but in fact practices greater centralisation of powers. Considering the regions left behind and their voting intentions, it is essential that we have a political programme adapted not only to the metropoles, but also to the rural regions.

Insecurity allows to stay in power

We support the increase in the number of gendarmerie and security forces, whose numbers have been reduced for many years, as well as the increase in judicial personnel. With 11 judges and 3 prosecutors (with a European average of 22 and 13 respectively) per 100,000 citizens, the French judicial system is severely understaffed. There is an urgent need to increase confidence in the capacity of our legal systems - but confidence is not the same as security; for Volt, security is not measured in cameras and heavy weapons, but by presence on the ground: Whether it is a question of reintroducing police officers to be present in the neighbourhoods and suburbs, financing the installation of public order offices to relieve the municipal police, or introducing a real national plan to combat violence against women, we need more presence and better trained personnel to meet current needs. It is a question of quality, not quantity.

National sovereignty without Europe?

We understand that Renaissance is now a party that puts forward historically right-wing proposals, but we neither believe that France must take up the challenge of sovereignty without its European partners, nor that cutting corporate taxes will significantly increase our sovereignty. It is the ability of our industry to invest and innovate, and the acumen of our governments to encourage investment and steer it in the desired direction, that will ultimately lead to the products and jobs we need to work towards our autonomy. If we judge the government's ambition by our current digital policy, which openly favours US technology providers at the expense of our French and European industrials, we do also question the sincerity of our efforts to become sovereign.

To go further, France is one of the leading defence forces in Europe, but even after incidents such as the AUKUS fiasco and the current war in Ukraine, which call for more defence integration at the European level, we still talk about the French military role in the world, rather than putting our weight behind the construction of a European army that we so badly need today. We therefore regret that our government does not live up to its own words at the European level, making sovereignty a national issue as if Europe did not exist.

What about equality?

In a historic moment for women's rights, this issue is, once again, missing from the government's priorities. The inclusion of abortion in the French constitution is a cross-party concern. It could serve as a first example of how to find a majority in the national assembly and also open up the prospect of distinguishing ourselves with policies aimed at true equality, be it between women and men or for the LGBTIQA+ community. France and Europe need countries to lead the way for equal and free societies and we are concerned that the government is wasting yet another opportunity to take a stand for equal rights.

A trailer for the next five years?

We recognise that the Prime Minister's speech cannot cover all the topics, nor can it go into much depth. However, like in a trailer for a movie, we expected an inspiring speech about our future. A speech that outlines the focus points of the upcoming five-year term. Given the challenges ahead, the 'trailer' we saw has however raised very little to be enthusiastic about. There is little reason to believe that this film will be satisfactory or to hope that viewers will become actors through compromise and ultimately applaud and vote in the next election. We believe that France needs more and that the government has a responsibility to deliver on its many promises, whether it is on European integration, tackling climate change or addressing the needs of everyone in our society - from the young to the old, from the rich to the poor, from women to men and from the left to the right.

We do not lose hope that we will be positively surprised by the work of the future government, but we also prepare ourselves to be a more ambitious, progressive, ecological and European alternative in the next elections.

About Volt

As the first truly pan-European party, Volt is committed to reforming the European Union and responding to today's challenges in a coordinated way at European level. Volt's vision: a progressive Europe with an inclusive society, a climate-friendly economy, an adaptable education system and self-determined digitalisation.

Volt is convinced that only the democratic participation of all European citizens will prepare us for a sustainable, economically strong and socially just future. This is why Volt acts at all levels - from local to European, as a movement and as a party. The movement gives everyone a voice and the opportunity to engage politically from within society. Today, Volt is present all over Europe: thousands of people of all ages and professions are involved in 30 European countries with teams in hundreds of cities.

Contact

Sven Franck - Co-President of Volt France
Mail : sven.franck@volteuropa.org

Fabiola Conti - Co-President of Volt France
Mail : fabiola.conti@volteuropa.org

Eric Galera - Responsable press relations
Mail : eric.galera@volteuropa.org 

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