The "Whatever the cost" is a bit like this series character supposed to die at the end of each season, but who is always there for the next one.
Since the worst of the health crisis has passed, the government has been trying to curb public spending, but inflation and the war in Ukraine are not helping.
Still, the speech itself is changing, proof that the executive is preparing people's minds for the end of an era that will have played overtime well.
“For economic life, as far as France is concerned, no company, whatever its size, will be at risk of bankruptcy.
No Frenchwoman, no Frenchman, will be left without resources […] The State will pay.
“In his words, President Emmanuel Macron launched, on March 16, 2020, when announcing the confinement, the beginning of “Whatever it costs”, a sort of infinite printing press of the State to help the population.
Two and a half years later, confinement now seems a long way off.
But the "Whatever the cost" is tenacious.
Almost too sticky for the government, which followed with the war in Ukraine and the soaring prices just after the Covid-19.
Here again, the tap has been turned on: tariff shield, energy check….
However, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, who has repeatedly announced the end of "Whatever it costs", put a nail in the coffin on Monday during the presentation of the 2023 budget: "France is to the nearest euro”.
The "Whatever it takes" is resisting
Finished, therefore, the tap wide open?
Not so fast.
Because between words and deeds, there is sometimes a gap.
And figures: this same budget provides 24 billion euros in additional credits for the ministries and the creation of 10,764 jobs for the State and its operators, a figure never reached since 2016. The tariff shield, admittedly reduced (the price of gas and electricity may be subject to increases, but not more than 15%), is extended to 2023, at an estimated cost of 47 billion euros.
We have nevertheless seen more strict belt tightening, notes Stéphanie Villers, economist and economic adviser at PwC France: “The 2023 deficit is the same as the 2022 deficit, estimated at 5%.
We are therefore not in a budgetary rigor, which would imply efforts to return to less than 3% at least.
There is a maintenance of the expansionary budgetary policy carried out since the Covid-19 ”.
Not the best time for a breakup
To the credit of the government, we can admit that the current situation is not trivial: “France is experiencing its worst inflation for thirty years.
The French economy, a fortiori after the health crisis, probably does not have the kidneys to support the rise in prices and the shortage of energy without massive aid, ”admits the specialist.
It is therefore difficult to opt for a budgetary shift, especially since all the European countries that have the means to do so are also opting for large public funding.
Still, the economy has its rules and money cannot be magic.
This is perhaps the meaning of the words of Bruno Le Maire: "Certainly, public spending is still very high, but the minister just wants to make it clear that we are at the maximum, and that we cannot push more", says Jacques Le Cacheux, professor of economics at the University of Pau and specialist in public finance.
Bruno Le Maire is thus trying to avoid criticism from disgruntled people, in particular the association of mayors, who judge the state budget to be “calamitous”, according to the professor: “It means that he has already drawn the budget to its maximum .
“A way also to reassure the European partners – in particular Germany, not really a fan of public spending – and the financial markets, specifies the teacher.
Farewells in 2023
It is also a way of preparing the French for the gradual end of this famous "Whatever the cost", condemned to die.
This mechanism was carried by the European Central Bank, which allowed the various Nations to act on recovery plans with borrowing rates at 0%, or even negative, recalls Stéphanie Villers.
But the blessed time of free loans seems far away, since the central bank has raised its rates, precisely, to fight against inflation.
France must now borrow at 2.7% over ten years.
However, the economist reminds us, each increase in the interest rate of 1% increases the French debt by 40 billion per year.
Not the same atmosphere as in the time of the Covid, therefore.
In 2022, the “growth + inflation” combination has made it possible to boost tax revenues, notes Jacques Le Cacheux, “allowing to release ballast almost everywhere in terms of public spending.
However, in 2023, France is more or less promised a recession, which greatly reduces its room for manoeuvre.
Stéphanie Villers in conclusion: “Not every crisis can be solved with public money.
The State will have to reduce its expenditure, which it could in particular do by targeting more aid.
The 15% limit on rising energy prices applies to all households, even the wealthiest.
It may be something to review”.
We therefore undoubtedly have what Bruno Le Maire really wanted to say on Monday: certainly, the “Whatever it costs” still breathes.
But his days are numbered.
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