In the past few months, basic income has been widely debated in the French public arena and mainstream media are starting to pay attention to it. This trend has been influenced by the announcement of pilot projects in the Netherlands and Finland, and the upcoming referendum in Switzerland.
Recently, there have been important developments in the national political arena too. On November 13, an amendment to the 2016 Budget Law proposing the adoption of a basic income was debated in the National Assembly, one of the two houses of Parliament. The proposal was introduced by Frédéric Lefebvre, MP from the right-wing party Les Républicains. The amendment was not approved, but the chairman of the Finance Commission, Gilles Carrez, approved the creation of a multi-party parliamentary working group on the issue.
This constitutes a real improvement in terms of political discussions on this topic. However, BIEN French chapter, the French Movement for Basic Income (FMBI), has expressed concern about the proposed measure. The amendment promotes the introduction of a universal income for all French citizens – but not other residents – that would replace all welfare benefits. All unemployment and housing benefits, as well as student allowances and old-age pensions, would subsequently be suppressed. (You can read the amendment in French here.)
Most people who depend on their social benefits would be strongly affected. The amendment seems to have been designed to reduce public debt, without taking into consideration the negative impact it could have on the welfare system. The proposed basic income does not sit well with FMBI’s stance. A basic income should not undermine the welfare system, but reinforce it. It should also promote more freedom of choice.
The amendment mentions recent developments in Finland. In the Finnish case too, there are concerns that the government might be experimenting with a basic income to replace other social benefits and reduce public spending. As far as the French proposal goes, it does not consider the implications for citizens and residents, especially those in the most vulnerable groups. It also fails to look at how the proposed basic income would enhance individual freedom of choice.
This is just the beginning of a serious political discussion. There is still a lot of work to do to develop proposals about the kind of basic income France should adopt. Yet, the fact that there is growing debate in all spheres of French society is a positive and welcome development.