Judy Asks: Does France need to change?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
20 April 2017

It has become popular to argue that France needs to change, not only for the country's own sake, but also for the sake of the EU's future. France's inability to get its public finances in shape, the argument goes, has led to a dangerous power imbalance with Germany: France needs to change to reignite the Franco-German motor of EU integration. But Germany is now simply much bigger than France, and the economic relationship between the two is inevitably unequal.

It is true that the lead-up to the 2017 French presidential election has revealed a need for change. That so many young people intend to vote for the far-right National Front is particularly worrying, and moderate French politicians must find ways to address the widespread sense of resignation at the country's economic future. France needs to push through ambitious reforms, especially of its labor market.

Change in France, however, is no silver bullet for the EU's many woes. To restore the EU's credibility, eurozone policies need to change. But it is naive to hope for a Franco-German quid pro quo under which Berlin would accept, say, the mutualization of eurozone debt. German opposition to such a step has little to with France's failings, real or imagined. France needs to change, but it is not alone.

Sophia Besch is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.