Taken off guard by the pandemic, the "reptilian brain" of the State tried to prove it could solve everything by itself, instead of calling businesses, NGOs or citizens to the rescue. In some instances, it was indeed able to prove its ability to work day and night to make the impossible possible. The reorganization of hospitals to accommodate the wave of the patients needing life support was a case in point. But for the vast majority of those struggling on the ground, the absence of a functioning State has been a source of frustration and anger.
A New Government for a New State?
Among other factors, these considerations have been key in Macron’s decision to change his Prime Minister, and appoint Jean Castex on July 3. As a well respected civil servant, Castex had been leading the special commission tasked with the preparation of the end of the lockdown, on May 11. A lesser known political figure, he has served as mayor of Prades, a small town in Southern France, for twelve years. His appointment as Prime minister was thus a promise for more collaboration, more local autonomy and less top-down policymaking.In his inaugural speech in front of the National Assembly, he vowed to end "public powerlessness", and to lead an efficiency-driven government based on cooperation with local authorities. The cabinet reshuffle also led to the appointment of Amélie de Montchalin, an energetic figure of the new generation mobilized by Emmanuel Macron, as Minister in charge of the transformation and the digitization of the whole public sector. Her challenge will be to reach concrete and visible results before the next presidential election of 2022.
Beyond these new faces, the crisis had led to two importants shifts of power among the French political and bureaucratic elite. Inside "Bercy", the French ministry of economic affairs, the power has shifted from the "Direction générale du Budget" (the directorate-general for budget), who has been the driving force inside the French power structure for decades, to the "Direction générale des entreprises" (the directorate-general for companies and business), reviving the very French dream of a State that could drive the technological development of the French economy. Inside the French aristocracy of civil servants, the power has (slightly) shifted from the "Conseil d’Etat" (the state council), keepers of the sacred administrative law, to the "Cour des comptes" (the Court of Audit), dedicated to controlling the efficiency of public money. In a move that shocked the small world of public servants, the General Secretary of the Government, Marc Guillaume, had to leave his prestigious and powerful office, that had until now embodied the stiff "Deep State" that Macron is increasingly resentful of.
The Big Test: the Recovery Plan