The situation could hardly be more serious. According to its latest forecasts, the French government expects an economic slump of 11 percent this year. President Emmanuel Macron's government is struggling to somehow contain the scale of the disaster. On Thursday Macron invited its ministers and the most important representatives from business and trade unions to a summit, for the first time not under video control, but under the festive chandeliers of the Élysée Palace. Macron's social reforms - which have been the main issue at such meetings for two years - have long been forgotten. There are no longer any taboos, and even temporary reductions in agreed wages are now under discussion, according to media reports. The president is in crisis mode and his message is clear: France can only get out of the crisis together.
But while Macron is still debating the right stimulus measures in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared before the German public on Thursday - and presented a € 130 billion stimulus package. Macron's government has also given itself enormous scope in the budget for stimulus measures. But "so far, the government has been in emergency mode to save companies and jobs," says Hélène Baudchon, France economist at Paris-based bank BNP Paribas. "We are still waiting for the big plan to boost the economy again." Macron is reportedly planning to submit its business plan in a month. "Germany has a head start here," said the economist.
The stricter the lockdown, the greater the consequences
Dirk Schuhmacher, analyst for the Eurozone at the French investment bank Natixis, does not see the problem in this: "The French package comes later because the lockdown in France lasts longer." Cyclical measures would only make sense if all essential hygiene measures were lifted and companies were able to work at full potential again. In France, where gastronomic establishments were still closed and travel of over 100 kilometers was forbidden until last week, this came later than in Germany. The government does not want to criticize shoemakers. "The government acted very decisively in France too." This is followed by Hélène Baudchon from BNP Paribas. "They essentially managed to maintain the French purchasing power." The economist particularly praises how the government has now managed to avoid an explosion in unemployment figures with 13 million short-time work applications.
However, the economic data are worrying. French Labor Minister Muriel Pénicaud warned last week that the unemployment rate will rise to over ten percent - despite short-time work. On Tuesday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also had to correct his forecast of the slump in gross domestic product from eight to eleven percent and said: "The economic damage is extremely brutal." As for Italy and Spain, most rating agencies and banks in France expect a recession of around ten percent. For comparison: For Germany, the Bundesbank expects economic output to decline by around seven percent.
Hardly any country is so dependent on the travel industry
"Germany is more the exception than France, which is in a similar situation to Spain and Italy in terms of its lockdown measures," says Dirk Schuhmacher of Natixis. The equation is simple: the stricter the lockdown, the greater the economic damage. He points to an index from Oxford University. It shows that France, which had long been in the fight against the virus without adequate masks, hospital beds and tests, ordered the strictest restrictions in all of Europe.
The virus hits France particularly hard, not only medically, but also economically. "The tourism industry will suffer the most and the longest," says Bruno Ducoudré of the OFCE economic research institute. Indeed, no country in Europe is more dependent on the international travel industry. Even if most Germans first think of Spain or Italy when it comes to holidays: According to the World Tourism Organization, France has been the most visited country in the world for years. In addition, led by Airbus and Air France, the aviation industry is likely to be one of the most important sectors of the French economy. The luxury goods industry, which is extremely important in the country of Hermès and Louis Vuitton, is suffering enormously as long as fewer people stroll through the airports, city centers and shopping malls.
Now it is a matter of French confidence
What options do Emmanuel Macron and his ministers have to fight the recession? The President always stresses how crucial better European cooperation would be. Macron's French political coup, the Franco-German proposal for an EU budget to combat the crisis, is of little use in France. Everyone is aware that Berlin is investing heavily in its own country in all European intentions. Only: "The financial scope of both countries is not comparable at all," said Hélène Baudchon from BNP Paribas. France's finance minister Bruno Le Maire should have significantly less ammunition in his bazooka - even if he is at least as determined these days.
Economists in France are therefore all the more aware of one factor that is becoming increasingly important in the face of the crisis: the French consumer behavior. The Banque de France has calculated that France's households have accumulated lockups of around 60 billion euros during the two months in the lockdown. "The big question will be how these savings are now being released," said Arno Fontaine, an analyst at the investment bank Natixis. Of course, it is hoped for the economy that his compatriots will now spend this money again as soon as possible. Bruno Ducoudré from the OFCE research institute explains that this will primarily depend on how confident people are about the future and how much they trust their government: "We need trust."
Of all things, this seems to be the most lacking in France at the moment. According to a recent survey, only 42 percent of respondents say they trust the government of Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Édouard Philippe in the crisis. For weeks now, commentators have been criticizing the still omnipresent centralism of the government in Paris, which has seized power in the crisis and is only slowly releasing the lockdown for all regions of the country, even if the virus was hardly present in some places. According to a representative study, half of the French believe that their jobs are in danger. 62 percent of respondents said their purchasing power would likely deteriorate. This worries economists because everyone knows how much the subjective economic climate determines spending behavior. The national consumer index rose significantly in the first week after the lockdown. However, no economist dares to read a trend from it - it could simply have been due to catch-up purchases.
To improve the negative mood in the country, Emmanuel Macron urgently needs a liberation. But how? His political program - open borders and a comprehensive commitment to globalization, more private and less state economy - looks like from another epoch in times of the pandemic. Macron's popularity drops, the majority becoming porous. Macron is likely to rely on the tried-and-tested means of major government restructuring in France. It is now said that new ministers could sit at the negotiating table in the Élysée in just a few weeks.