How can we allow the French to come together and look to the future together? At a time when our country is divided on many issues and seems to find it difficult to look to the future, France Stratégie wanted to scrutinize opinion and facts in order to understand the fractures in French society. The result is a report, "Fault Lines. A society to be reunited", which proposes several orientations for rebuilding our social contract.
Ahe divisions that cut across society are perceived in France more than elsewhere as threatening and impassable. This collective pessimism is rooted in a crisis of confidence in institutions deemed to be failing in their ability to protect and bring people together.
As elsewhere in Europe, a series of structural divisions run through French society. But unlike our neighbours, we have a distorted, overly pessimistic perception of them. Of the five major Western European countries, we are, for example, the one with the lowest poverty rate but the highest fear of falling into poverty. Why such a gap between perceptions and objective realities? And what does this apparent contradiction say about the state of our society, about what really divides us?
Pessimism, a key to reading French society?
Employment, income, social mobility, the situation of young people, territories, integration, the French take a gloomy view of their country's situation and their own future prospects. A diagnosis that is not necessarily reflected in statistical indicators.
France is one of the countries with the least unequal income distribution. Paradoxically, the perception of social antagonisms is very acute and the French have a strong feeling of downgrading. One figure bears witness to this: 75 % spontaneously position themselves in the working, disadvantaged or lower-middle classes, whereas two-thirds of them belong to the middle class. The same observation applies to employment: four out of ten French people fear an episode of unemployment in the coming months (for themselves or their relatives), but the actual probability of finding themselves there (by being in employment a year earlier) ranges from 1.8 % for managers to 7.3 % for unskilled workers. This individual pessimism is coupled with collective pessimism. With regard to integration, for example: 72 % of the French people surveyed consider that it is not working well. However, in France as elsewhere in Europe, secularization is accelerating and 89 % of the descendants of two immigrant parents say they feel French.
The examples could be multiplied. But that is not the aim of the report. Neither is it to systematically mislead the opinions or perceptions of the French. It is much more a question of making sense of these apparent contradictions, that is, of understanding what these "particular dissonances" say about French society.
In the beginning: a crisis of institutions
In the absence of a single explanation, this report favours a hypothesis. The pessimism of the French shows a profound doubt about our collective capacities, a doubt which itself largely refers to a crisis of confidence in the institutions. The French expect them to protect and mobilise them. Yet they often feel ignored or even mistreated by them.
In the company, the search for compromise seems to have given way to mistrust, with the weakening of social dialogue in particular. In terms of public services, the relationship with citizens is often conflictual and the most disadvantaged say they lack enabling institutions and proximity. Schools are accused of not keeping their republican promise of equality, since social determinisms are such a burden on real equality. The same feeling of injustice, fiscal this time, with the erosion of consent to taxation that accompanies the French doubt about the effectiveness of their social model. Regalian institutions are not spared. While they share a growing sense of insecurity, the French tend to question the state's ability to protect them effectively in the face of danger. Finally, the demobilization of the electorate, particularly among young people and the working classes, reflects severe criticism of the political class, which is accused of being powerless but also of lacking probity.
How to reunite society?
What remedies for this crisis of confidence? How can we overcome the fractures to bring the French together, or at least make them recognize a common future? One thing is certain, there are pitfalls to be avoided - from clientist or technocratic responses to the discourse on values to authoritarianism. On a more positive note, the report lists a series of imperatives: sincere political debate, clear rules and the institutions that embody them, officials who are accountable.
Beyond that, three scenarios emerge. "Assuming individualism" or how to make the collective less costly and more acceptable in the face of individual demands for autonomy. "Rethinking solidarity based on proximity" or how to decentralize the norm and public action to bring them closer to the needs of each individual. The second is how to "rebuild the republican ideal" or, conversely, how to re-establish common law by aiming to standardize public services throughout the country.
Whatever its orientation, however, there is no doubt that the response to social fractures is political and therefore needs to be the subject of a wide-ranging debate. There are no ready-made solutions. It is up to citizens to collectively redefine the content of the social pact, to agree on what the principles of justice guiding public action should be, to decide in short what they want to do together.
Opening a citizen debate to "decide together" is clearly a necessity. Our ability to rebuild the collective is at stake.
Authors of the report: Jean Pisani-Ferry, Fabrice Lenglart, Daniel Agacinski, Gilles Bon-Maury
(Source: France Stratégie - Céline Mareuge - October 12, 2016)