French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal


Low growth and welfare cuts push Attal Government to the brink


Near-zero growth, coupled with savage welfare cuts and broad perceptions of fiscal mismanagement, look set to push French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s government to the brink of collapse after European Parliament elections.

Attal is expected to face, and lose, a confidence vote after an expected heavy defeat for Macron’s Ensemble coalition in the June 9 European contest.

Ensemble, which includes Macron’s Renaissance party and seven others, will receive 17 per cent of votes in June, according to a May 10 Ifop poll, while Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party will receive 32 per cent, or nearly double.

France’s deficit skyrocketed by 22 per cent in one year to 5.5 per cent of GDP, the national statistics institute announced in March.

This was €18 billion more than expected, a significant and “very, very rare” miscalculation, said chief auditor Pierre Moscovici.

France is currently the eurozone’s third most indebted country, behind just Italy and Greece.

“France’s government debt readings keep going from bad to worse,” says French economist Cedric Gemehl from Gavekal Research.

“Any private sector company would have sacked Emmanuel Macron for this,” claims Rassemblement National president Jordan Bardella.

Macron had hoped for a rescue from a quick recovery to growth, but French GDP has stubbornly failed to take off.

It grew by just 0.2 per cent from January to March, in preliminary data released April 30.

Macron will now need to make big, unpopular cuts to stay within the euro-area’s 3% deficit targets by 2027. 

These cuts will likely fall mostly on welfare, but will include some business tax-breaks, and will give Macron less fiscal room to weaken the hard-right’s support. Macron had promised to relax the tax burden on low- and middle-income workers, and leave business and other tax rates unchanged. 

The High Council of Public Finances, a French official fiscal watchdog, says to meet the 3 per cent deficit target, Macron needs to make €60 billion of cuts over three years.

The actual number is more likely to be €150 billion in cuts over four years, says Macron’s former advisor Jean Pisani-Ferry, now an economics professor Science-Po.

Either reflects a level of spending cuts never previously attempted in a country that last balanced its budget 50 years ago.

The ratings agency Moody’s has said cutting the deficit to below 3 per cent by 2027 was “unlikely”.

French finances also put Macron in a delicate position, as he exerts other EU leaders to do more for Ukraine.

“The abysmal French debt makes their promises to help Ukraine in its war with Russia an unreachable goal,” says Mohammed Fdal, founder of Boston-based Omar Financial.

The peril for Attal’s government is greatest between June and September, when the 2025 budget battle begins.

Since he does not command a legislative majority, Attal will need to use the government’s special constitutional powers–under article 49.3 of the constitution–dozens of times throughout a laborious budgetary process. 

Each time he does, this opens up the government to no confidence motions–censure motions, as they are called in French parliamentary parlance.

When Pompidou lost a confidence vote in 1962, de Gaulle removed him shortly after,” observes Louis Hausalter, a political journalist at French daily Le Figaro.

There is a subtle difference, though.

“But in the meantime, the general won a referendum, then legislative elections following a dissolution,” Hausalter notes.

Both Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumis and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National are preparing confidence motions. Macron has already won against four censure attempts from those two parties at the ideological extremes since 2022, neither of which gathered broad cross-party support.

A more dangerous move for Attal and Macron would be a confidence motion about the budget from the centre-right Les Républicains–the Insoumis, RN, Communists, and Socialists have all said they would support such a motion.

“If it is tabled, yes, we will vote for it,” said Christine Pirès-Beaune, a Parti Socialiste deputy. “We can’t carry on like this, with a government that doesn’t consult parliament on the country’s finances.”

If a lost confidence vote causes early legislative elections, Rassemblement National would leap from 88 to between 243 and 305 seats, an Ipsos poll said in December 2023, with 289 meaning an absolute majority.

Early elections, for Macron, would mean “absolute carnage”,  says Hausalter–and in the worst case, could mean spending the remainder of his presidential term in a cohabitation with an assembly majority and prime minister from Le Pen’s party.