France in the middle of the ford

VSswan’s haunt or methodical reconquest? The progress made in recent years to reindustrialize France does not yet make it possible to resolve the question. As the twelfth edition of Industry Week begins on Monday, November 27, the sector remains in recovery. The seeds of renewal have not yet succeeded in erasing the scars of decades of disintegration of an entire ecosystem of contractors and subcontractors.

By dint of being hammered home, the messages ended up getting through. Political power has taken up the subject, the image of the sector is gradually dusting itself off, the mirages of an economy entirely focused on services have finally dissipated. Relocating, restructuring, abandoning entire manufacturing sectors was done relatively quickly. Regaining lost ground will require a lot of patience, stubbornness and consistency in public policies.

After several years of financial, regulatory and fiscal efforts, the trend has begun to reverse itself. France now creates more factories and industrial jobs than it destroys, which is an encouraging start. But the country remains in the middle of the ford. Spectacular announcements, such as that of the Danish laboratory Novo Nordiskwhich has just invested more than 2 billion euros in Chartres (Eure-et-Loir), or the projects of battery mega-factories for electric cars launched in recent months, cannot be enough to compensate for the declines recorded over the past forty years. The trade balance deficit is there every year to remind us of the magnitude of the task.

A blank page that remains to be written

Wanting to reconstitute our industrial potential identically is illusory. First, the ecological transition requires a radical transformation of production methods. Then, due to the robotization and digitalization of manufacturing, reindustrialization will be less job-rich. Furthermore, the perimeter of the playing field has changed: French reindustrialization will only find its coherence on a European scale. Finally, most factories that have gone to the other side of the world will not return, and a lot of lost know-how is lost forever. Reindustrialization is, essentially, a blank page that remains to be written, not a nostalgic quest for a bygone past.

This is why it is important to precisely define the contours of the reindustrialization desirable for the country. The success of this project also depends on the adaptation of the ecosystem to enable the industries of tomorrow to emerge. There remains a titanic amount of work to be done on education and training. Without a qualified workforce adapted to the challenges of tomorrow, reindustrialization will remain a dead letter. Likewise, without carbon-free energy in sufficient quantity, at predictable and controlled costs, our competitiveness will be stifled and future factories may never see the light of day.

Finally, industrial renewal will depend on an improvement in the availability of land and an acceleration of legal and administrative procedures. To achieve this, we must find the balance between essential simplification and the appropriate framework to guarantee the ecological transition. The challenges are immense, but if France does not manage to overcome them, the continuation of downgrading will be inevitable, with irremediable consequences on employment, the financing of our social model and the sovereignty of the country.

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