INTERVIEW – The Minister of Action and Public Accounts excludes in the immediate future any additional gesture in favor of the purchasing power of the French, despite the acceleration of growth. The tenant of Bercy details the philosophy of his voluntary departure plan for the public service.
I respect the Court of Accounts which is fully in its role. My analysis is that this extra tax revenue comes from the dynamism driven by the President of the Republic and a return of confidence that results from our economic policy. In addition, the efforts we have made to achieve savings should not be minimized. It is thanks to them that we have been able to meet the commitments of our predecessors on box office or military expenditures without recourse to tax increases. It is a challenge that we have succeeded.
Given the upturn, do you regret suddenly the very unpopular decision on APL?
Not a second! France today lives beyond her means. No entrepreneur, no household, would spend every month 25% more than he earns. This is the case of our country. All efforts to control public spending are necessary, we will continue to do so.
The Court of Auditors is questioning the level of structural effort …
The Court does indeed have questions about the contractual mechanism with large communities. This is probably due to the innovative dimension of our approach: for the first time we implement a solution that is not based on constraint, but on trust, by encouraging them to control their expenses.
The Court had, however, been very critical of the decline in endowments all over the place. She recommended finding a new system that would not discourage local initiative and public investment. That’s what we’ve done, and I’m confident that this mechanism will bring in $ 2.5 billion in savings every year. About 40 communities are already in a test phase. Again this week, Christian Estrosi called me so that Nice is part of the test phase, which was not planned initially. The first contracts will be well in April. Almost all should be signed in June.
Does the rise in interest rates not call for a stronger structural effort?
The government’s strategy is to first lower taxes to restore confidence. Rising tax revenues should help us reduce our deficit. We are watching interest rates carefully. I often say that 1 additional point of interest can cause an amount equivalent to the Justice budget to go up in smoke … Certainly, the rates increase slightly but we had planned it in the 2018 budget. Their current level is still much lower. to the forecast of the finance law. So we are in the nails of what was planned.
Are you confident that the 2017 deficit will land below the 2.9% forecast?
We had good surprises in terms of tax revenues and we finely controlled the expenses. On the other hand, spending by local authorities is quite dynamic because of the end of the two-year investment cycle of the elections. Even if there are still uncertainties, France should be able, in all likelihood, to leave the excessive deficit procedure next spring. Which would be a great victory.
With the return of growth, the Court of Auditors sees an additional 8 billion euros in tax revenues. Should we redistribute this pot?
There is no jackpot in a country that loses 2.115 euros per second! The government improves purchasing power. With the abolition of the housing tax for 80% of French, it is 10 billion euros in taxes that will be returned to the French by 2020. From 2018, it is on average 170 euros returned to more than 17 millions of homes.
The payroll of January has increased for 21 million employees, although sometimes a dozen euros. We may want more, besides a further rise in net wages will take place in October, but when we dropped 5 euros APL, everyone had in mind that every euro counted. The French, who believe only what they see, find for the vast majority of them that we increase their purchasing power without increasing corporate expenses. The employees do not complain!
With the decline of the executive in the polls, they seem rather to express their deep disappointment on the purchasing power …
The rise in purchasing power is real, especially for employees. We assume that this is not the case for some retirees. Those who receive small incomes are not affected by the rise in CSG and will see their purchasing power increase thanks to a strong revaluation of the minimum old age. As for pensioners who receive a monthly income ranging from 1,200 to 2,500 euros, they certainly know a rise in CSG but will see the catch-up in October when their housing tax will drop by 30%.
Is the discrepancy between your speech and the perception of the French not aggravated by the fact that they hear that growth returns but do not feel it?
While the country is returning to growth, it remains lower than that of its European neighbors. What is important is the recovery of the country and it does not go through the relaxation of our efforts at the slightest improvement. Yes the recovery is there but it will take several months to demonstrate that indeed, France is economically back.
Was it not a mistake to reduce social contributions in two stages?
No, because that would have forced us to increase the deficit or to raise taxes, and that was out of the question. We are restoring purchasing power without making the policy of “tomorrow, we shave gratis”, which always ends with tax increases.
Is it not possible to speed up the schedule for lower contributions?
We have just voted a budget. I understand impatience but you have to keep it. We are not going to make a rectifying budget for every journalistic question.
There are voices in the majority to do more and increase the activity bonus at one go instead of spreading the increase … Are you ready to do it?
I am sensitive to these arguments, especially since I am one of those who advocate for a social conscience more assertive in politics. But the bonus of activity is public money that is given to employees so that their activity income is greater than that of the assistance. It must be done but it is not a panacea. If the resumption of growth is reflected in more public money spent, we will not reduce our deficit! The increase in the activity premium is scheduled but its acceleration is not on the agenda.
For the desocialization of overtime, Edouard Philippe speaks of 2020 or before. Can you do it from 2019?
This is a good commitment of the President of the Republic, which I supported, from the beginning of the mandate, integration into the five-year budget path. We will do this by the end of 2020, as the Prime Minister has said.
Is it tenable to remove the housing tax for the 20% of the wealthiest households, given the criticism in the autumn on the “budget of the rich”?
If the tax is silly, there is no reason to keep it. But I repeat that there will be no additional tax. We need to undertake a global overhaul of local taxation. We should not refrain from thinking about the local distribution of a national tax as we did with the regions by assigning them 1 VAT point. Many assumptions are on the table: will community skills stay the same? Is it up to local elected officials to set the rate? We are working with local communities on the National Territories Conference.
For some households, the tax paid locally may be higher after the reform?
When the best solution is found, I will tell you. But our red line is that there will be no overall rise in taxation.
On public service reform, the term “voluntary redundancy plan” you used surprised, even within your majority, was it wise to start negotiations in this way?
Our will is to transform the public action in depth, with the key missions that will evolve: some will be maintained, some will merge or be delegated to local communities or companies, others will be strengthened. Some tasks will also disappear with scanning.
In Bercy, for example, many things can change. For some taxes, would it not be possible to make a partnership with La Poste for the treatment of all cash payments, so that the tax administration is free of such charges? This would make full use of the network of this beautiful public company. But then we must consider solutions for agents whose jobs are concerned. Either we train them to another job, or we offer them a plan of voluntary departures, with a very strong support.
What kind of accompaniment?
There will be support, including financial course. Does this have to go through unemployment insurance? Why not, that will be part of the discussions with the unions. We have a year of consultation before us, with Olivier Dussopt, before a bill in spring 2019. I see that the trade union organizations that I have met in recent days are in a desire for dialogue. We must leave fantasies. We do not propose a massive departure plan. For example, there will be no departure plan for teachers or hospital staff, which we sometimes find difficult to recruit.
Why increase the use of contract workers in the public service, when they already represent 20% of the workforce?
We believe that there are areas in which the state must continue to operate, but with more recourse to the contract. Take the case of computer scientists. In Bercy, we need very advanced skills in terms of algorithms and data mining to reinforce our anti-fraud means, we also need to overcome blockages Today, too often, a mayor wants to use a contract must demonstrate to the prefect that he was previously refused the refusal of permanent officials.
I also specify that it is not an insult to be contractual, and it must be remembered that the soldiers who fight for example in Mali, for a part of them, are not civil servants for life. Their commitment to the state and the public service is however no doubt!
On merit pay, Nicolas Sarkozy had already tried to achieve without success …
It is a difficult reform. We must already agree on what we mean by merit, and on its evaluation. Should we rely on the ratings of superiors, on the level of quality of service, on the attendance rate? From the moment the evaluation is based on public criteria related to the general interest and not to profits, it seems to me to make sense.
The vast majority of public servants do their job very well and would like to be paid on their merits. Today it is mainly by seniority or the general increase of the index point that the pay increases are made. Only 1 in 10 government employees have a share of their merit pay, and still, it remains small. This is not satisfactory, it often amounts to spreading small amounts to everyone.
It also requires more targeted efforts for agents who are poorly paid for their missions – in the Ehpad, among nurses or prison guards, for example.
How can these extremely politically sensitive reforms be carried out while you are being attacked by a party of the opposition who is demanding your resignation after the opening of a preliminary investigation for rape charges?
That the opposition is attacking me, that does not seem to me undemocratic. That does not stop me from working with her, notably Eric Woerth, the chairman of the Finance Committee in the National Assembly, for whom I have great respect, and Albéric de Montgolfier, the general rapporteur in the Senate. For the rest, I’m totally at work, serving my country and the French. Nothing makes me deviate from this commitment.
Are not you weakened by the legal case she has taken?
The opposition is in its role to oppose. As for me, I remain determined to implement the commitments made by the President of the Republic.
Does the result of the partial legislative elections not raise the problem of the territorial anchoring of En Marche?
A by-election does not make spring! I remember that LR had won almost all the parts of the last five years. That did not allow him to win the presidential election … We, we have a project, which can be challenged, but I can not imagine what the situation would be if Laurent Wauquiez was in power: if I ‘m stick to his program there would be a rise of 2 VAT points, an ecological tax, no removal of the housing tax, a reduction in income tax and there, a real policy for the richest!
We must allow time for the government’s policy to give full effect. For the rest, we work. It is obvious that a young political force – what we are and claim – does not have all the reflexes of an old party.