The French state has always occupied a central and essential role and has over the years taken measures to reduce state power. This necessity has to be related to the unprecedented shift in the balance of power, when the Socialists won the elections in 1981. For the first time during the Fifth Republic, the left wing took over and only such a tremendous change might have been powerful enough to question the might of the State. There are two key areas in which the French state has made concerted efforts to take a back seat; the territorial and economic scenes. However, once examined from a closer stance, it is clear that the supposed measures are not as effective as they could be and that the French state is still very much involved and still plays a significant part. Real efforts have been made on the territorial plan towards a better balance between the state and other sources of power through a process of decentralisation and due to globalisation and liberalisation.
[...] turning point in terms of the balance of power between the state and the “collectivités locales” or local authorities. This spurred on subsequent laws taking as the starting point where the initial Defferre laws left off. By this law, préfets are no longer the executives of local decisions putting an end to two hundred years of unshared power at the local level, which is one of the most fundamental changes which have been brought about in this area. Previously, the préfets enjoyed the privilege of outlawing acts of local authorities such as council decisions before they were even implemented. [...]
[...] The conviction public services have to be state- run is very deeply rooted in the mind of most French as it is commonly believed that only the State can ensure equal access to water, electricity and other services. The status of EDF (“Electricité de France”, the French provider of electricity benefiting from a monopoly on production and distribution of electricity) is proof of this constant concern. The French government is under heavy pressure from European institutions in terms of European legislation on fair competition that France does not comply with. [...]
[...] These “conventions collectives” gather the agreements between the Trade Unions and the employers sector by sector. The state plays a key role in the achievement of these agreements as the “conventions collectives” have to comply with the very precise and demanding labour legislation. The French emphasis on equal access to public services regardless of the geographical location also explains why citizens are so attached to the state. French citizens are very concerned with equality, and rely on the state to ensure it. [...]
[...] For this reason, French Right parties were in favour of nationalisations and strongly refused any transfer of sovereignty from the state to the local authorities. As for the left wing, historically, it has been infused with socialist ideas and therefore emphasised the intervention of the state in every economic sector. In the eighties, socialists converted to the decentralisation path but did not accept any form of withdrawal of the state from the economy whereas the right wing started to support privatisations but still denied local authorities any legitimacy. [...]
[...] Along with the Jacobin tradition, it shall also be shown in second position that the “grands corps” and finally the “grandes écoles” have their part to play in the deep-rooted attachment of the French to a strong central state as the graduates of these schools are often reserved the most prestigious positions in adminstration. The Jacobin tradition explains why the French rely strongly on the state when it comes to change. The tradition of “Jacobinism” going back to the French Revolution is still very influential and even determines the behaviour of citizens. [...]
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