When France rediscovers the virtues of protectionism

Almost two years after his inauguration, it is still Joe Biden who dictates the European agenda. Celebrated for his recovery plan to 2,000 billion dollars (about 1,908 billion euros) at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, here is the American president passed “on the wrong side of the force” with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), according to the words of the French Minister of Industry, Roland Lescure, who spoke on November 16 at a conference organized by Business France.

This text, which provides for nearly 400 billion dollars in expenditure, will massively subsidize American manufacturers with national preference clauses, encouraging European companies to locate their production in the United States, where they would also benefit from low prices. Energy.

France has since been trying to structure a response around a “Buy European Act”, in the hope of preserving European companies at the same time as the objective of industrial sovereignty, at the heart of Emmanuel Macron’s second term. Thus bringing up to date a form of protectionism to which Europe, Germany in the lead, absolutely refuses to have recourse.


The Head of State, however, avoids using this very connoted term.. “In France, protectionism is bad,” summarizes Hakim El Karoui, essayist and consultant, whose book The future of an exception (2006) denounced the risks of social disintegration inherent in free trade. ” It is implicitly considered that this is what led to the Second World War. It is not at all in the political and economic culture of the French elites. » However, even the Medef has changed its discourse on trade policy, he recalls. “We talk about reciprocity, but in fact, it is never applied. While in essence, what Joe Biden says to Europeans is: “Do the same”. »

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Economists are also embarrassed by the idea of ​​protectionism, associated with rents, when free trade promotes competition and low prices for the consumer. “We have no idea of ​​the consensus of economists against Arnaud Montebourg” at the time when he defended the “made in France”, emphasizes François Geerolf, professor of economics at UCLA (California), who recalls in passing that “ Joe Biden has surrounded himself with heterodox economists”.

The subject is, however, eminently political: A factory that closes is an RN office that opens,” is accustomed to say the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. Several American economists, such as Dani Rodrik at Harvard, or David Autor at MIT, have shown that the areas most exposed to competition from low-wage countries are the most likely to polarize politically. But while part of the community of Anglo-Saxon economists has evolved in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory and then Brexit in 2016, few French academics have looked into the subject, fearing to be taken over by the extreme right, which has adopted the idea of ​​national preference. « The very fact of saying that deindustrialization is a problem excludes you from the consensus of economists, regret François Geerolf. Until now, to hold this discourse was to hold a populist discourse. »

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