Bringing manufacturing back to France has suddenly become a central theme in campaigning ahead of next year’s French presidential and legislative elections. But is it just an empty PR exercise by desperate presidential candidates?
“Made in France” has become the slogan de rigueur across the French political scene as pressure mounts ahead of next year’s presidential and legislative elections.
François Bayrou, candidate for the centrist MoDem, launched his campaign last week with the slogan “Buy French”, a theme immediately taken up by his fellow presidential hopefuls.
The latest was President Nicolas Sarkozy, visiting the Rossignol ski factory at Sallanches in the alpine Haute-Savoie administrative region.
“Everyone’s talking about ‘buying French’ – but what I prefer is ‘manufacture it in France’,” he told reporters.
Rossignol, a historic French sports company, in 2008 repatriated some – but not all – of its manufacturing back from Taiwan, where it had relocated in 2005.
Also jumping on the bandwagon was Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande, speaking up for “industrial patriotism”, as well as far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen who promised a law titled “Let’s Buy French”, with the ambitious objective of creating 500,000 manufacturing jobs in France in five years.
The working class vote
The “Made in France” approach encompasses a holy trinity electoral gold dust, according to Eric Bonnet, head of French pollster BVA - clawing back the perceived negative effects of globalisation, reducing unemployment (currently at 9.8%) and above all securing the working class vote.
“The working classes represent 20% of the electorate and these are swing voters whose support is crucial to all parties,” Bonnet told FRANCE 24. “Sarkozy had them on board in 2007, but now Hollande is in the lead, followed by Le Pen, with Sarkozy lagging far behind.”
In five years the French president has lost much credibility with blue collar voters. Some 260,000 were lost in manufacturing in France between 2008 and 2009, and a further 72,000 in 2010, according to French national statistics institute INSEE.
“The crisis has wiped out Sarkozy’s record when it comes to manufacturing,” said Eric Heyer, director of the French Economic Observatory OFCE. “And he’s been too busy trying to bring the crisis under control that he has no strategy in place for rebuilding this sector.”
Politicians blowing hot air?
But Sarkozy has no intention of surrendering to his adversaries.
On Tuesday he appealed for a new “France Label” on products for which at least 50% of the development, production and marketing was based in France.
The OFCE’s Hayer is appalled – accusing politicians of exploiting a fundamental economic problem for purely PR purposes without coming up with solid plans for reindustrialisation in France.
“They are all coming up with simplistic slogans, inciting consumers to ‘Buy French’ for purely idealistic reasons,” he said. “It would be better to come up with a definitive plan for adding value to certain sectors of French industry.”
Adding that France has the third highest foreign investment of any country, he called for more emphasis on the quality of French-produced goods, rather than an appeal to buy French for purely patriotic reasons.
“The right slogan should be ‘Buy French products because they are the best’.”