Re-industrialization of France is possible. But who would dare undertake the politics it implies?
On January 17, 2022, in Chalampé at the Alsachimie site (BASF group), President Macron once again mentioned the necessary re-industrialization of France.
©BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP
Since the Covid crisis, there is concern for the industry all over Europe, especially in France.
Atlantico: What is your diagnosis of the current situation?
Olivier Lluance: In 2020, after Covid, everyone is very scared for the industry, everywhere in Europe, especially in France, where the industrial structure is already weak. Anxieties were high, but the industry family came together. France implemented the France Relance plan, 100 billion euros, a third of which for industry. This ensured and even started the beginning of re-industrialization. Almost all of the current factory openings have benefited from France Relance. About the same amount is on the table today, 110 billion, but 10 billion to the economy, 10 billion to companies, and 100 billion to households. This time, the industrial family was not sufficiently mobilized. Three types of companies facing this will be particularly affected. First, those who consume a lot of energy (Aluminum Dunkirk, Arc, chemicals in general), those who have difficulty passing price increases (especially the agri-food sector) and finally, all the VSEs who do not have much money. Whether it’s Michelin or PMI in Bethune Basin, they’ll see their energy bills gradually multiply by 5 or 6. It is estimated that a fifth of our fabric is at risk of temporary or permanent closure.
What should be done in the short term to save the industry?
The first thing to do, if it is still possible, is to rebalance the distribution of the 110 billion between businesses and households. The Germans will invest 200 billion and divide it 50-50. This rebalancing is more important than the total mass. The government should be prepared to put another 10 or 20 billion on the table to save the industry, wherever that money comes from.
The second urgent point is the termination of the connection between electricity and gas. Spain and Portugal have been able to do this because they are a form of energy peninsula. It is more complicated to do it at the level of France and Europe, because we want it because of the problems with our nuclear energy. But it can be done under the radar, with the nationalized EDF offering companies over-the-counter contracts because its commitment will be no profit at all costs. EDF can offer long-term, competitive contracts.
Then we need European solidarity. We must continue to support current suppliers based in France or Europe. If we turn to the US or China, where energy is cheaper, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. We need real general mobilization. We know we can’t say we want to buy French production because of European regulations, but all public buyers tell you we can achieve the same result using CSR criteria. By using texts intelligently, we can make “localized” purchases.
It can be imagined that large companies, especially those with state capital, show solidarity to connect their ecosystems. We need to mobilize demand to maintain our productive tool.
Finally, in the period of uncertainty we know, we should try to have more constant and regular, less erratic communication, especially regarding the restart of the NPP, in order to provide reliable indicators and reassure investors.
And what should be done in the long term?
Take European news. The proposed carbon tax protects primary industries but exposes processed products. Therefore, we will make a choice in this direction. However, our main industries are often the most energy-consuming: glass, chemicals, cement, steel, etc. At the same time, we allow energy markets to fluctuate. This is contradictory. Why? Because we have no vision. A person should know what he wants. Perhaps the answer will be: we doubt it is a field for aluminum because it requires a lot of energy and we will not have cheap energy to produce it. This requires strong political courage. And I’m obviously taking a caricature case. But we need a vision of our industry to avoid sending mixed signals to investors. A factory is a 10 or 20 year commitment.
Another point, there is France 2030, but we have to move forward. The President of the Republic mentioned commandos a year ago. Today, however, the management of France 2030 consists of 14 ministerial committees, in which qualified individuals are called “ambassadors”. There is some discrepancy between the two terminologies. Management may be reduced, but the tool is there, very useful for fundamental innovation, and should be used.
On the other hand, one tool we lack is to capitalize on our territories. Business leaders in the territories have many projects that they never complete. If we go to see them, if we support them, if we give them confidence, they can do it. In Bethune, when Bridgestone closed, they consulted with local industrialists to find dormant projects. France Relance came to add it. Today, the Bethune-Bruay agglomeration unites one third of the France Relance des Hauts de France projects. In my opinion, these dormant projects represent a potential almost equivalent to France 2030. If we combine the two, we can return to the European average.
Finally, we have to solve the six brakes, 4F2A: availability of land, formalities – the duration of the procedures, financing – we are still worried about investing -, training, but also the attractiveness of jobs in industries and areas and the acceptance of projects by the population. He is working on everything except officialdom and funding. But the funds at the disposal of state bodies are poorly distributed according to the scale of the needs, they are too centralized. This also needs to be changed.