Macron's Financial Plan Faces Challenges From Rural Areas
In the mayor's office of Gueret, France, the portrait of President Macron spent two weeks face-to-face with the wall. Mayor Michel Vergnier turned the picture in a show of defiance against the French president, who oversaw the October teargassing of locals as they protested job cuts.
Vergnier got in touch with like-minded mayors in the Creuse region. He says, "We decided that since he didn't want to see us, for us it was the same."
Although Macron has since invited the former soldier and 20-year parliament member to meet with him, Vergnier remains unconvinced of the president's scheme to eliminate French wasteful spending and debt.
He, along with many other mayors and workers, believe it is a mistake to slash local council reserves by 13 billion euros as Macron intends. Macron's plan would see France's losses minimized from its current 3% GDP to virtually zero in 2022.
Cutting many subsidized jobs will affect countryside towns like Gueret more than others. According to the OECD, the public sector in France has grown to 55.6% of the country's gross domestic product; for comparison, in German it accounts for 43.8%.
The declining region of Creuse faces particular challenges in drawing private investors. In Gueret, even the main shopping neighborhood has half shut-down, and car parts company GM and S must let go of 50% of its workers.
Gueret also hosts a state-financed movie theater and 3,000 public sector positions in a population of 16,000.
Historically, France has struggled to stabilize its budget-- the 1970's most recently saw it balanced, and until this year, Paris flaunted the EU budget rules. The social programs in France have created difficulties for presidents to maintain without accepting loans.
Both the extreme left and right agree that the money should come from the excessively rich and from exposing tax evasion. However, centrist Macron believes that reductions in spending and expansion in the private sector will be best in the long run.
So far, the growth is slow.
OFCE economic think tank representive Mathieu Plane thinks that the French president wants to see results without risking France's recent economic growth. The cost-reducing estimates have dropped from 20 billion euros to 15 billion, and so far only 1,600 of the proposed 120,000 public sector positions have been cut.
On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission stated that France wasn't doing enough to confront its debt problem.
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