The Attali Report: New Setback For Liberalism in France.

Article published on March 12, 2008
Article published on March 12, 2008
It is funny, these days we no longer hear much about the Attali report.Vanished, forgotten. Yet it was supposed to be the revolutionary report which was going to propel France into the 21st century. What was a modern and liberal country going to do to face the big stakes in the coming years?
With the Attali report we were waiting for a kind of “Big-bang”, a huge explosion in the French political scene. At last we were going to debate upon our stagnation, our rigidity, on the role of the state in the present world! Result: nothing, zero, absolutely nothing. After some days of agitation, the media seemed to have forgotten even its existence. Dare I say: Pschiiit?

Promoting Activity

Let's recollect the facts. Our president, as a sign of modernity and wisdom had set up a commission, presided by Jacques Attali, former advisor of Mitterand to reflect upon the problem of economic growth in France. It was part of the famous policy of openness.

The result was out in last January 23rd: 316 proposals on a variety of subjects, with some strong ideas: deregulation of a number of professions, rationalisation of the administrative organisation, development of professional training and emphasis given to education and research. Plus some eccentricities like the creation of “Ecopolis” for 50,000 people.

Lots of these propositions are perfectly sensible and even necessary. What comes out of the Attali report is that state action must promote maximum activity and not restrict. It has been years that all economists, analysts, lawyers have agreed upon the need to change the French model and it was never the centre of public debate. It was time!

The Final Debate!

The problem, when the report came out everybody focussed on the propositions which irritated: deletion of departments (equivalent to English counties), resorting to immigration… and liberalising the taxis. As soon as the taxi men saw that Attali proposed abolition of licences, they saw red. Strikes, demonstrations, distribution of all kinds of pamphlets followed. And then, at last, we had a real public debate: on taxis… everywhere in the newspapers we asked the same questions: are taxis too expensive? Are they too many? Do they intentionally leave us stranded when they pass by?

Finally, now in France we talk about taxis and not about reforming the country. Pathetic. But how did we come to this?

It is quite simple. When Sarkozy understood that very few people, even among his party members supported such a cultural upheaval, he realised that he had opened a Pandora’s Box. The taxi, it is quite useful, it isn’t fundamental; it makes a good conversation topic in corner cafés. And hop, the turn is played!

Whose Error Is It?

But all this is not really the fault of the President. No, the first person to blame in this story is Jacques Attali himself. When we have some fundamental ideas on reforms to be made, we do not drown them in 316 proposals, some of which are frankly not very important. It is very basic politics. It is necessary not to allow one’s adversaries to drown the fish by creating another debate on secondary issues. Error of a novice…

Finally, it is a problem of the French culture; this report is not really liberal. I’m explaining myself. Liberalism, it is to believe that the society is capable of evolving by itself and the function of the state is to allow that evolution by ensuring a minimum security. The report is just the opposite. It is particularly interfering. Everything comes from the state, one more time, the ideas, the financing and the decisions.

Taken one by one, the propositions of the Attali report are often interesting. But seen globally one would say it is a kind of “liberal revolution”. It is the best way to scare everybody. Above all, one must end with the very French fantasy of evenings of great revolutions. Some reforms discretely made and well-timed will surely be useful not only to France but also to Europe rather than all these ideological non-sense.


Translated from French by Sohanjit HALDER.