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Standard & Poor’s: the political stakes of a long-awaited decision on French debt


Like nothing ever happened. At 7e floor of the hotel of ministers in Bercy, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, received, Wednesday, May 31, fifteen parliamentarians of the majority for lunch, as he does regularly. On the menu: roast veal, green industry, local communities, energy transition, public spending. But no rating agencies, or so incidentally.

The oldest of these Anglo-Saxon financial institutions, Standard & Poor’s, must nevertheless issue, on Friday evening June 2, an opinion on the quality of French debt, a much-awaited decision which has mobilized the services of its ministry for several weeks. This verdict also comes a month after a first warning from the rival agency Fitch, which lowered France’s rating by one notch on April 28, questioning the government’s ability to reform in a tense social climate.

However, there is no question of making it the heart of lunch. Bercy intends to minimize the scope of the sentence, whatever it may be. public policy decisions, “we don’t take them for the rating agencies, we take them because they are good for the French”summarized Bruno Le Maire a few hours before lunch, on France Inter. Moreover, the minister is not even ” not sure ” that a decision unfavorable to France has any impact on its ability to finance itself on the markets, which have other indicators, he advanced.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Fitch downgrades France to AA – under the effect of “political deadlock” and “social movements”

” Cold blood “

Would a sanction be a non-event? “You have to look at this decision with composure, abounds Renaissance MP David Amiel (Paris), one of the minister’s guests on Wednesday. Governing to the rhythm of the rating agencies is what we did ten years ago with austerity policies, with catastrophic results. You have to have a clear awareness of the diagnosis, but it would make no sense to have blind cuts in spending as a short-term response. »

In fact, although the debt burden increased by 15 billion euros last year, investor demand for French “paper” remains much higher than the volume of securities issued, and the markets are not yet showing no sign of concern. The decisions of rating agencies are also less scrutinized than in the past, the 2008 financial crisis having weakened their credibility.

There remains the political signal: an unfavorable decision would damage the image of informed manager cultivated by the executive, even if it would help Bercy in his crusade for public finances, which no longer concern either public opinion or politicians. This would no doubt help to put a bit of tension in the system”summarizes the Renaissance deputy Mathieu Lefèvre (Val-de-Marne), for whom “the seriousness of the budget is also a major signal of attractiveness for the country”. Conversely, a lack of sanction would risk being read as a blank check to spend more. However, experts remind, France runs the risk of being downgraded in Europe, including compared to certain southern countries such as Greece or Italy, which have reduced their debt ratio by 30 and 15 points respectively since 2021. .

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