“An extraordinary year”, interview with Gilles de Margerie, General Commissioner, and Cédric Audenis, Deputy General Commissioner.
How has France Stratégie been affected by the public health crisis?
Gilles de Margerie: Even if France Stratégie has not been at the forefront of health issues, the crisis period has led to many questions about the future. An institution like ours could not ignore these questions. Our missions are to shed light on the future and make proposals for public policy. The year 2020 saw strong demand for analyses and forecasts, as well as increased citizen participation in collective reflection on “the world after”. We have endeavoured to respond to this.
How exactly did you go about meeting this demand?
G. de M.: Firstly, by reorganising our seminar on sustainability, which was launched at the beginning of 2020 and whose aim was, and still is, to question our development model in the face of long-term challenges, especially environmental ones. In particular, we launched a call for contributions on the issue of “post-Covid sustainability”. France Stratégie has thus been able to gauge the views of many social actors, whose collective reflections we have summarised and published. The six webconferences that followed brought together hundreds of Internet users each time.
Secondly, we have produced a number of studies that allow us to take a fresh look at subjects directly linked to the Covid-19 crisis. I am thinking here of two original maps: one of the professions and the other of the labour market areas most vulnerable to the crisis. We were also among the first to look in depth at the issue of security of electricity supply.
Cédric Audenis: The public health crisis has forced us to adapt our work programme. France Stratégie is an organisation that proposes medium-term analyses, with work spread over six months or a year. We therefore had to strike a delicate balance between continuing with projects already underway – which have lost none of their relevance with the pandemic – and turning our attention to issues that have been amplified by the crisis.
What audience have the publications reached in this context?
G. de M.: We have noted a very high level of public interest in the type of analysis we offer. Visits to our website have increased by 20% compared to the previous year and downloads of our publications have increased by more than 30%. In this sense, 2020 was an exceptional year for France Stratégie. This of course reflects the fact that, during this unusual period, the public’s attention has turned to the kind of subjects we deal with, but it also shows that we have been able to meet their expectations.
And internally, what impact has the crisis had on your organisation?
C. A.: Like many organisations, France Stratégie's productivity has been affected by the crisis, but our productivity has actually gone up: the number of publications and seminars has not fallen. Quite the opposite! We have managed to carry out our projects while adapting our way of working. For example, we have (re)organised our seminars online. And, paradoxically, the use of videoconferencing has been beneficial, as it has allowed us to reach new audiences and achieve unprecedented levels of exposure.
We have also encouraged the majority of our staff to work from home, even beyond the periods of strict lockdown. While this collective organisational approach has been rather beneficial in the main, we have lost out on one point: France Stratégie's strength is based to a large extent on exchanges between experts from different backgrounds – specialists in the environment, the economy, labour, social policies – including informal exchanges, on the fringes of meetings or by the coffee machine!
Did evaluation continue to ramp up in 2020?
C. A.: The year 2020 once again confirmed France Stratégie's major role in the field of evaluation in France. An eighth evaluation committee was entrusted to us in May, jointly with the Inspectorate General of Finance. Chaired by Benoît Cœuré, it is responsible for monitoring the implementation of, and evaluating, financial support measures for companies faced with the Covid-19 epidemic.
In addition, almost all of the committees led by France Stratégie produced a report in 2020, some of which received a great deal of attention, in particular the second report of the committee assessing capital tax reforms, or the further evaluation of the tax credit for competitiveness and employment (CICE).
We have also begun to integrate the effects of the public health and economic crisis into some of our evaluation work, particularly that on the Labour Ordinances and the National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Poverty. The evaluation committee, chaired by Louis Schweitzer, has published a progress report on the situation of the poorest people in the face of the crisis: difficulties in terms of subsistence, health or access to distance education during lockdown.
Apart from evaluation, what were the key issues or proposals of the past year?
G. de M.: Our evaluation and proposal missions are in fact linked: “evaluating” helps us to better contribute to the debate by giving us a closer look at the implementation of public policies. The report produced at the request of the National Assembly on industrial policies bears witness to this. It is a retrospective of industrial policies in France over the last few decades. This report came at the right time, because with the crisis, there has been a revival of industrial issues: many questions, for example, about our country’s industrial sovereignty and “health independence”. This tome (600 pages long!) on industrial policy in France is a very good tool to capitalise on in order to develop public policy proposals.
On another subject, inequalities, I would like to mention the very detailed work that has been done on residential segregation and social mixing over the last thirty years. We have also shown that, while inequalities in France after redistribution tend to be lower than elsewhere in Europe, this is also true for inequalities before redistribution. All these studies can contribute to the public debate and sometimes challenge false or conventional ideas.
C. A.: We have also made proposals to accelerate the energy renovation of housing and to encourage the transition to agro-ecology, which may have the same success as the “weight tax” for cars, a proposal put forward by France Stratégie in 2019 and adopted by the National Assembly in November 2020.
How do you work with the High Commissioner for Planning, François Bayrou?
G. de M. : As soon as he took office, François Bayrou came to meet with the France Stratégie management committee, as we are expected to assist him. He expressed his desire to address a number of themes and we very quickly offered to provide him with information on many of them. We provide analysis, proposals and reflections, but naturally the editorial and political responsibility for what is published by the High Commissioner lies with him.
What are your plans for 2021?
C. A.: As far as evaluation is concerned, the ramp-up will continue, because we are likely to take on the evaluation of the Recovery Plan and, in addition to the annual reports of each committee, we will publish a report by the National Commission for the Evaluation of Innovation Policies (Cnepi) on the research tax credit.
G. de M.: Among the major projects is the foresight exercise Jobs and Skills in 2030, carried out with Dares, which will be relaunched in 2021. We will continue to work on inequalities, striving to propose improvements to our social system – a particularly important subject in this period of economic and social crisis. And, of course, we will continue the seminar on sustainability, the aim of which is to contribute to improving the design of public action, which must increasingly take account of social and environmental imperatives, while remaining viable, in a context where our fellow citizens are expressing profound demands for the renewal of democratic practices.