For those who dream of embarking on a political career, this is undoubtedly the ideal moment. For the first time in several decades, the budgetary constraint seems to have disappeared. And the credibility of the candidates in terms of the management of public funds is not a concern either for the public, or for the candidates, or even for economists. A few months ago, analysts, elected officials and pollsters predicted an election partly centered on the issue of debt. Evidence after two years of “whatever it takes”, more than 150 billion euros spent on support measures, a deficit of 7% of gross domestic product and a debt exceeding 115%. It has not happened.
The campaign, however dominated by economic and social issues with the theme of purchasing power and inflation, seems to have evaded the question of means. With the exception of the pension reform, proposed by some of the candidates, the programs are, for the most part, not funded. The right and the far right promise billions from the fight against social fraud, the left billions from tax evasion, while Emmanuel Macron is betting on the fruits of growth made more uncertain by the war in Ukraine .
How can you blame them? According to the latest survey carried out by Ipsos-Sopra Steria in partnership with the Sciences Po Center for Political Research (Cevipof) and the Jean Jaurès Foundation for The world, the question of the debt and the public deficit is in second to last place of the ten main subjects of concern for the French (12% of those polled), far behind crime (16%) or social inequalities (17%), in a ranking dominated by the standard of living (53%), the war in Ukraine (44%) and the environment (26%). As if the “whatever the cost”, so strongly supported by the country during the crisis linked to Covid-19, had drowned out the issue of debt.
The situation is unprecedented: “I do not have in mind a campaign where we have spoken so little about the debt”, admits Frédéric Dabi, director of the IFOP institute. Five years ago, the right-wing candidate François FiIllon had made the serious budget the cornerstone of his program, and had imposed it in the debate. In 2012, François Hollande attacked Nicolas Sarkozy on his “degraded accounts”while two rating agencies had just withdrawn France’s “triple A”, guaranteeing the quality of its signature. “Unlike today, the excuse of the financial crisis was absolutely not audible”, recalls Mr. Dabi. Five years earlier, it was François Bayrou, the “third man”, who had made debt the political marker of his candidacy, to which he had succeeded in securing part of the right. Even in 2002, Lionel Jospin’s campaign had been polluted, at least in part, by the affair of the “cagnotte” which he was supposed to have sought to conceal.
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