It is not only in Britain that public sector reform dominates politics. In France part of the elite is worried about the future of the stateby Erik Izraelewicz / August 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
the french are so fond of their state that the most critical report on it to be published for years has become a bestseller. Despite its size (800 pages) and its price (179 francs) the book, Notre Etat: Le livre v?rit? de la fonction publique (Our State: The truth about the public sector), edited by Roger Fauroux and Bernard Spitz, has been a bestseller in France in the essay category for months. The book, in both its success and failure, is a useful reflection of the French ambivalence towards the state at the beginning of the new century.
It is the collective work of 29 public figures (including one foreigner, Franco Bassanini, the former Italian minister for public services) most of whom have served the French state for much of their careers. Graduates of ENA or Normale Sup, the authors have different political backgrounds but mainly represent a particular strand of the centre-left (many worked for former prime minister, Michel Rocard).
And, astonishingly, given their backgrounds, the writers express a sense of outrage towards what “their” state has become. When they entered public service, they had imagined a just, efficient and unobtrusive state. But through bitter experience, they have discovered an unjust, inefficient and overweening state. The differences in their diagnosis makes this impression no less overwhelming. Above all, they vehemently reject the analysis shared by a large section of the French political class which maintains that, after all, like Fellini’s ship, the state works.
According to the latter diagnosis, the state still delivers enviable economic and social standards. It is true that France remains the fifth world power. It is also true that its public services-its railways, hospitals, schools and so on-function. They are even envied by other European countries, including Britain. None the less, as one of the contributors puts it: “For 20 years the state has stagnated whilst society has moved on rapidly.” From education to health, industry to research, from diplomacy to justice-the conclusion is the same: the state is cumbersome, costly, inefficient and increasingly illegitimate.
The force behind this general verdict comes from the quality of the book’s authors: men and women with a strong attachment to the state, who have experienced it from the inside, at different levels of responsibility, but often at the most senior level. It is worth noting, however, that a majority have abandoned the state in their own professional…