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French economist, writer, political adviser and senior civil servant Jacques Attali tells Courtney Fingar why he backs president Emmanuel Macron's reform plans, and explains why adult education is one of the most important areas of reform.

Q: What do you think of the reforms that president Emmanuel Macron has pursued so far and do you think he will be able to carry out the reform agenda? 

A: The full reform agenda is not far from the reform I proposed in the bi-partisan commission that I chair, and Mr Macron was my deputy. Therefore it is not far from my way of thinking and I cannot agree more with what he is doing. I hope he will succeed but it is a matter of management, governance and an ability to act.

I am not sure he will be able to do it because France is a difficult country. I always thought that reforms had to be done in France in one sitting because we are a revolutionary country. We like to make reforms at once or in one block and not [over a long period of time].

France has made reforms since the war, three times in 1945, 1958 and 1981. Now it’s time for a group of reforms that should have been done before but all the former leaders procrastinated so nothing was done. Now the people say ‘give him a chance’ – which means he has about two years to do them. It doesn’t mean Mr Macron will be re-elected. But I think he will do it and I think the reforms are going in a good direction. 

In reform you must help the winners and the losers. You must help the winners to win and help the losers to become winners. It’s not enough to help the winners. It’s important to transform people. The difficulty is that it’s easier to help the winners. It takes more time to help the losers become winners through education, training, networking, etc, than to help the winners by reducing taxes and so on. The risk [when it comes to] reforms is the discrepancy between the success of reform for successful people and the failure of reform for non-successful people. 

Q: What is the most important reform in your opinion? What should be the priority?

A: Education. Not only primary education, which was reformed at the beginning of Mr Macron's mandate, but adult education too. Jobs are modified all the time and you need to be trained and retrained all your life, therefore ongoing education is fundamental and it is going to be reformed. It is being discussed in a cabinet meeting [as we speak]. 

Q: Do you think the mentality of the people is changing? This is generally a difficult part with reforms.

A: We are a very wise nation. People don’t need to be tutored. People understand that reforms are needed globally. The only thing is that people need to be sure that reforms are fairly managed. I think that, for instance, in education, what has been reformed is kindergarten and primary education. That is fundamental but the impact will not be felt for 20 years. It’s hard to make people see that it is needed. 

Q: Where does Brexit fit into this? Is it an opportunity for France?

A: No it is not. Whatever weakens Europe is not good for France. We need a strong Europe and Europe without the UK will be weaker. It’s obvious that France is the strongest nation in Europe now, the most welcoming, we have a real leader [with a mandate], which is not the case in Spain, the UK or Germany – but if you are strong alone in an alliance, it doesn’t mean the alliance is strong. Therefore Europe cannot be strong when France is the only strong nation. We need strong partners.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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