· Published in RecoveryWatch

“Investing” in corporate power From the French recovery plan to “France 2030”

This article presents an analysis of the French recovery plan and of the subsequent "France 2030" investment plan announced in October 2021 by Emmanuel Macron, that does away with the few safeguards and conditions associated with NextGenerationEU funds. The recovery funds - and even more so the France 2030 funds - tend to benefit larger corporations either directly or indirectly (through tenders or through their subcontractors), in particular because they are closely aligned with a corporate agenda focussed on techno-fixes. The French government talks a lot about the need for ’investment’ at French and European level. While calling for more public investment may appear as a good, progressive cause, in practice this ’investment’ comes at the expense of necessary public spending in the running and upgrade of public services. Even recovery funds directed at public services are actually meant indirectly for the private sector (construction, software, etc.). The use of call for projects and calls for proposals for the distribution of the funds tends to favour the same kind of corporate players that are well versed in this type of exercise. Ultimately, under the appearance of "public investment", we are seeing public money routinely diverted to corporate coffers.

The "France 2030" investment plan, announced grandiosely by Emmanuel Macron in October 2021, is yet more proof of the French government’s eagerness to continue and increase its support for corporations. Estimated at €34bn (€30bn in state aid and €4bn in capital injections), the plan is both the French President’s last move in his first term, representing a step up in the direction taken since 2017 (and ramped up with the arrival of Covid-19), and a way for the President to anticipate a potential second term.

This investment plan has two components. It consists of €19bn in financial support for so-called “strategic”sectors: the nuclear and hydrogen industries the automotive industry, health care and culture. And €15bn is to be injected into a number of “cross-sector” investments intended to benefit these same industrial sectors.

Amount Sector
8 billion Energy & Zero-carbon Industry
4 billion Automotive & Low-emission aeroplane
2 billion Food Industry
3 billion Pharmaceutical
2 billion Culture & Space Exploration & Seabed Exploration
1.5 billion Access to strategic materials
6 billion Electronics and robotics
2.5 billion Training
5 billion Investment in start-ups
Total investment: 34 billion

In October, after several weeks of rumours and procrastination, the President unveiled the 2030 plan from the Elysée Palace. No specific details were given on the recipients, nor was there any press release. The specifics as to how the plan will be managed and governed are not expected until the first quarter of 2022. The first instalment of the plan – €3.4bn – was incorporated into the 2022 finance bill by way of last-minute amendments and with minimal parliamentary debate. One of the amendments, dubbed “the most expensive amendment of France’s Fifth Republic”, puts the €34bn investment plan into law.

In certain sectors (hydrogen, healthcare), the figures announced don’t actually seem to represent new investments, but are part of previously announced plans (such as the €7bn hydrogen plan of September 2020 or the ’Innovation Santé 2030’ plan). Some calls for tender are labelled sometimes France Relance and sometimes France 2030. It seems that France 2030 recycles part of the investments already announced before. There is a certain amount of confusion, particularly as to which investments are part of the recovery plan and which are part of France 2030. The government did not respond to our requests for clarification on this subject.


Less transparency, less conditions

With the new €34bn investment plan, Emmanuel Macron is continuing down the same path he has taken since the beginning of his term. In late 2017, there was the €57bn euro “Great Investment Plan”, which involved various reforms intended to boost employment, facilitate the climate transition and, above all, foster “innovation and competition with an emphasis on France becoming more digital”. And on top of the emergency measures (state-guaranteed loans, short-term work scheme and payment deferrals) put in place to help the French economy weather the Covid-19 pandemic, the French government also established a recovery and stimulus plan for certain sectors (automotive, aviation, tourism and healthcare), and a €100bn recovery plan, a good part of which already targeted the same so-called “strategic” sectors, the digital sector and the green transition.

“France 2030” is more of the same, yet where the previous plans included some semblance of rules and conditions, the latest plan seems to have done away with these completely. Despite demands from MPs and civil society, corporations that benefited from the recovery and stimulus plans for the automotive and aviation sectors were only given extremely vague “attached conditions” (read our previous article for Recovery Watch). There were somewhat stricter conditions attached to the €100 bn recovery plan as it was part of a European agreement. It was required that at least 37% of expenditure should go towards climate action, and the remaining amount should not contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (the “do no significant harm” principle). In order to get the green light from the European Commission, the governments of Member States, including France, were required, to explain how their recovery plans would address certain issues, such as gender inequality, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and territorial cohesion. Similarly, the use of European funds implied certain minimum requirements in terms of transparency in regards to both the recipients and the amounts received.

However, without political back-up, effective monitoring mechanisms and sanctions, the EU’s criteria and conditions can only do so much. A report by the High Council on Climate (HCC) in December 2020 concluded that 70% of recovery measures that the French government deemed “climate neutral” would actually increase the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. A first official report assessing the implementation of the recovery plan indicates that "the objective of short-term recovery has prevailed over that of structural transformation of French industry", making it impossible “to guarantee, at this stage, a significant impact on the environment or on the resilience of industrial value chains”.

What is certain in regards to “France 2030” is that Emmanuel Macron and his government have decided to do away with all conditions and safeguards in order to establish their own priorities and criteria in a discretionary manner. Unless some great surprise awaits, it’s not looking as though any conditions, whether these be financial (dividends, companies registered in tax havens), social (employment, gender equality) or environmental (climate commitments), will be attached to support granted under “France 2030”.

A €34bn bet on technological promises

Tech is a prominent feature of the French government’s 2030 roadmap. Although its pro-tech stance has been evident since the beginning of the President’s five-year term, with a clear leaning towards the digital sector, this was ramped up in 2020 with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. Industrial tech is presented as the magic solution that will boost France’s economy, create jobs, meet France’s social and environmental objectives – beginning with the climate emergency – and ensure the country remains a major player on the world stage. It is described as a "breakthrough innovation" to give it an air of inevitability and to suggest that citizens and consumers have no choice but to adapt to these solutions as designed and desired by industry.

The France 2030 investment plan is entirely based on an unshakeable faith in the technological promises brandished by industrialists and staged by their lobby groups and the think tanks they finance. This focus explicitly refers to (see the film launching France 2030) the idea of “France’s cnational hampions” of the 1970s – a rather rose-tinted notion given the impasses, failures and semi-failures that marked this period.

Sector-specific bailout and recovery plans France 2030 Other
Hydrogen 2 billion 2 billion 3 billion
Nuclear 500 million 1 billion
Zero emission planes 1.5 billion 2 billion?
Electric car 2.8 billion 2 billion?
Minerals and metals 110 million 1.5 billion
Digital 10 billion 10 billion?

The industries that are set to gain from “France 2030” are the same sectors that previously benefited from the bailout plans and the recovery plan: the car industry, the “zero-carbon” plane, the hydrogen and nuclear sectors, and, probably, carbon capture (“decarbonising industry”). A wealth of tech-centred options that are obviously favoured by the corporate world because they represent a way for them to keep their current business model alive instead of opting for more structural changes (such as reducing air travel and individual car use, using less energy or designing decentralised renewable energy systems, etc.). Some of these tech fixes (such as the low-emission plane) are still only fantasies for now. Most of them will create as many problems as they will solve. We only have to think about the mineral resources required for electric vehicles (lithium, etc.) or the potential issues that would result from a change in land use – required to develop the biofuel industry (carbon-neutral plane), not to mention the issue of nuclear waste.

Other sectors are also seeing tech and the private sector take centre stage. In regards to healthcare, the focus is not on providing adequate funding for public hospitals or improving access to medications and equipment but rather on pharmaceutical innovation (with 20 biomedicines to be released by 2030) and “e-health”. When it comes to agriculture, the priorities are digitalisation, robotisation and biotech.

Even in the cultural sector, France 2030’s primary focus seems to be funding filming and post-production infrastructure for the international film and streaming industry. The main objectives are to build large-scale studios, train professionals and create content, focussing on three “strategic regions”: the Mediterranean region, the Paris region and the North, in order to make them powerhouses of the “French Touch”.

In regards to space exploration, Emmanuel Macron announced a series of mini-launchers and micro-satellites, investments which are likely to benefit corporate giants Airbus, Dassault and Safran. During the 2020 ministerial reshuffle, the space sector, previously managed by the Ministry of Research and Innovation, was handed over to the Ministry of the Economy, the goal being to make the French space programme a new realm of industrial innovation and competition. With the growing number of private companies such as SpaceX involved in space exploration, this move illustrates the government’s desire to invest in so-called “New Space”.

Cross-sector investments planned under “France 2030” are also extremely tech centric, with a focus on robotisation, electronic components, ensuring access to strategic minerals, training and investment in start-ups. Although the investment plan is not specifically focussed on digital technology in the broad sense of the term, this is not only because this sector has already received significant government funds under France’s recovery plan (France Relance) and previous investment plans. It is also because the digital sector will benefit from a significant number of these cross-sector investments, including investments in training and start-ups. There has already been a first call for expressions of interest, to the tune of 400 million euros, with the goal of “providing solutions for the industry of the future” with an emphasis on “artificial intelligence, 5G, blockchain technology and cloud computing”. Another call for expressions of interest is in the pipeline so as to “keep the digital ball rolling”.

Lastly, following the presentation of a non-public report on “strategic metals”, coordinated by Philippe Varin - former CEO of PSA and former chairman of the board of directors of Areva and Suez -, the French government has provided some details on this part of its investment plan. A “strategic fund for energy transition metals” has been announced as well as a first call for critical metal projects aimed at strategic industrial sectors. Although the “energy transition” in general is the official reason given for the French industry’s dire needs for certain metals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, etc.), most of said needs are actually for one industrial sector in particular: batteries and electric vehicles.

Women, still the forgotten ones in the France 2030 plan?

During the pandemic, women often found themselves on the ’front line’, both at work and in their families. Over-represented in many of the sectors that helped cope with the pandemic (87% of nurses; 91% of care assistants; 97% of home helpers and housekeepers; 73% of maintenance workers; 76% of cashiers and sales assistants; 71% of teachers), women were largely forgotten by the bailouts and recovery funds. The recovery plan does not include any measures on equality and gender diversity, and it finances mainly male-dominated economic sectors (automobile, aeronautics, digital). Even the jobs in the ecological transition include very few women, barely 16%, even though almost 40% of the credits in the recovery plan are devoted to them. The France 2030 plan has the same problem: many of the targeted sectors employ mainly men and no proactive action on gender equality seems to be planned. Two requirements, among others, had been put forward by the High Council for Equality between Women and Men in June 2020: the training and retraining of women in the sectors supported and considered as "strategic", and the conditioning of state aid on respecting gender equality. Neither was included in France 2030.

Who will benefit?

We don’t yet know which companies will benefit from the €34bn plan. However, officials have already mentioned several names in the media. A large chunk of the funds will be spent via various calls for projects, but without clear rules ensuring there are no conflicts of interest, there is the risk that the money will end up in the hands of the “usual suspects”, those close to political circles and well practiced in the art of securing state funds.

Two electrolysis plants are planned under the investment plan’s “green hydrogen” component. Several names have been floated, including the Belgian industrial group John Cockerill (whose CEO is a former executive at ArcelorMittal), Genvia (a joint venture between Vinci, Schlumberger and the Atomic Energy Commission), Elogen (subsidiary of GTT), and McPhy , a purported start-up whose CEO has worked at Total and Uniper.

The French government is again betting on digitalisation to tackle the issue of decarbonising industry. When France 2030 was unveiled last October, the CEO of industrial engineering group Fives and CEO of Elaia Investment Fund, which specialises in Deep Tech, were invited to speak – both of which could directly or indirectly gain from the plan. Emmanuel Macron also visited the robotics company Siléane (partner of Orano), which is a potential candidate for the expected investments in robotising and modernising factories.

Digitisation and robotics is also the focus of investments in the food industry, with start-ups such as Ynsect and Naïo Technologies first in line to benefit. These companies already received funds from the Investment for the Future Programme (art of former Prime Minister Édouard Philipp’s 2017 Great Investment Plan). This kind of “double-dipping” is not specific to the food industry: a green hydrogen start-up is expected to receive funds under France 2030 despite the fact that it already received financial support under the recovery plan.

CAC40, the eternal winner?

France 2030 is supposed to focus on "start-ups" delivering "disruptive innovations". In reality, many of these start-ups are close to large groups (as partners or regular suppliers) or are run by former executives of these multinationals. In the end, there is a good chance that the France 2030 investment plan will once again mostly benefit the latter - directly or indirectly: Naval Group, EDF and Air Liquide for energy, Stellantis and Renault for cars, Airbus for low-carbon aircraft, etc.

However, large French corporations of the CAC40 groups do not need to be supported by public funds. Automotive giants have posted record increases in profits between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2021: 7.7 billion for Renault, 6.4 billion for Stellantis, 1.1 billion for Michelin. The same goes for TotalEnergies (12.5 billion), ArcelorMittal (7 billion) and Engie (2 billion), which should benefit from the funds allocated to hydrogen, batteries and the decarbonisation of industry. Just before the end of 2021, and as the omicron variant took the number of positive daily cases in France to the hundreds of thousands, the CAC40 broke a new historical record for stock market valuation.

The same groups have benefited from significant public support during the health crisis (emergency support, central bank bond purchases, bailouts and stimulus plans). In the absence of social, environmental or fiscal conditionalities for this support, CAC40 corporations chose - rather than preserving jobs or investing in the climate transition - to use this money to pay out more than €76 bn in dividends over two years, and to beat their historical record of annual share buybacks, at €25bn.

In addition to funding technologies and industrial projects that are often problematic, or that would at least deserve a real democratic debate, the France 2030 plan will above all once again fill the coffers of the CAC40 and its shareholders. Emmanuel Macron and his government emphasise the need for massive public investment to learn the lessons of the Covid pandemic and strengthen the French and European economy. This focus on public investment, which many would welcome at face value, hides a radicalisation of his politics of unconditional support for the private sector. It is not about actually investing in the public sector (education, health), it is about public investment in corporate power.

Published by Observatoire des multinationales. Research by Mélissandre Pichon.

Article published as part of our investigation: «RecoveryWatch»
More about our investigation