‘France is in need of a dose of Thatcherism’

After the death of Margaret Thatcher, there has been much talk in France about the impact of her economic policies on the UK. Paris based Professor of Economics, Tomasz Michalski tells The Local why France could do with its own dose of Thatcherism.

'France is in need of a dose of Thatcherism'
The two Iron Ladies. Could France do with some of Maggie's secret economic remedy?

With France suffering from an ailing economy, rising unemployment and weekly strikes by trade unions protesting job cuts and austerity measures, parallels have been drawn with Thatcher’s Britain of the early 80s.

France may not quite be the “sick man of Europe” as Britain was labelled back then, but its worrying economic situation and outlook did earn it the title last year of “the ticking time bomb at the heart of Europe” from the Economist magazine.

Thatcher’s death has added fuel to a debate in France over whether the country needs the same liberal economic remedies that Thatcher prescribed for Britain, to help reboot the ailing economy.

Many political and economic commentators are quick to highlight what they say were the destructive effects her liberal market policies on working class Britain, but others stress that France could do with something similar to haul it out of the mire.

Tomasz Michalski, Professor of Economics at Paris’s prestigious HEC business school is one of those who believes France needs to take heed of the Dame de Fer.

“France could definitely do with a dose of Thatcherism. The country has maxed out on state spending and has maxed out on debt. It needs a change of thinking to get back to reality and realize that there are market-based economies that are generating wealth. Many people forget that.

“You just have to look at a recent report by the London School of Economics which showed that up until 1980 the UK was growing at a much slower rate than both Germany and France, but after Thatcher came to power that all switched around, with France having the slowest growth rate of the three, and Britain the fastest.

“Whereas Britain was encouraging privatization and making labour laws more flexible, the exact opposite was happening in France, where Mitterrand was re-nationalizing big companies, which then had to be re-privatized later, because it didn’t work. They stiffened the labour market laws until we ended up with a 35 hour week.

“The private sector is currently being crowded out in France because around 58 percent of France’s GDP is swallowed up by state spending in national and regional governments. The public sector is taking up too much responsibility.

“France is in need of the product market competition that Thatcher introduced in the UK. You need to have competitive markets because if you don’t you will have high prices, high costs, less profitability and therefore you will be less competitive. Here you have monopolization all across the board, whether its hotels, banks, supermarkets – you name it.

“There was recently a tender put out for delivering trucks to the French army but because it was not won by a state firm, the tender was scrapped.

“In terms of reducing the power of the unions – yes, France could do with doing this too. Although membership is not actually that high here, they do carry a lot of clout. The problem with the labour unions in France is that they protect those in jobs, but there are lots of young people out there who cannot get jobs.

“France has ended up with a two-tier labour system, those with a CDI (permanent contract) and those without one. Those who have one, sit on them and benefit from the protections and those on the outside are stuck there.

“In France all sides need to give something up so these reforms can be implemented without the violence that was seen in Britain under Thatcher.

“Recently in France, you have seen ministers threaten investors with nationalization because they said they intended to close down a factory. It’s not even like the situation with the miners in Britain, which was a case of the state versus the workers.

“These are private matters for the private sector and the French government is trying to prevent them from making HR decisions. It's not even a need to break the unions, it’s just a need to let the private sector be.

“The difference between the UK then and France now is that the economic situation in Britain made it ripe for a change and perfect for Thatcherism and it allowed her to do what she did. It was really the sick man of Europe.

“France is lagging behind and is ready for a major overhaul.  There will be a time maybe in two to three years and it may not come under this government, but I think it is needed.

“There is a Chinese saying that if you can’t avoid it, just accept it.”

READ ALSO: France needs solidarity not Thatcherism

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What are the 26 French ‘unicorns’ hailed by the government?

France now has 26 'unicorns', something Emmanuel Macron's government sees as a major success. Here's what this means and how it affects France's future.

People dressed as unicorns attend a tech summit.
People dressed as unicorns attend a tech summit. France now counts 26 start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)

In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron set what seemed like an ambitious objective: having 25 French start-ups valued at over $1 billion by 2025. 

These companies are colloquially referred to as “unicorns” or licornes in French. 

The target was very on-brand. Macron had sold himself at a youthful, ambitious and liberalising president keen to lead France towards modernity. 

To achieve this goal, the government lifted regulations; hired liaison officers to manage relations between tech entrepreneurs and government ministers; created a new kind of visa to allow entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to move to France; and launched an incubator scheme known as the French Tech Tremplin (“French Tech Trampoline”) to help underrepresented groups such as women, poor people and those in the countryside to launch tech start-ups. 

Just three years later, it appears these efforts have paid off. 

“They told us that it was impossible – that creating a start-up nation was just an act. But collectively we have got there three years ahead of schedule,” said Emmanuel Macron on Monday, sporting a Steve Jobs-style polo neck as he celebrated the fact that France now had 25 ‘unicorns’. 

On Tuesday, La French Tech, a body run by civil servants aimed at creating a healthy environment for start-ups in France heralded another success – a 26th licorne

The latest addition is a company called Spendesk – it runs a platform that allows small and medium sized businesses to manage spending, expenses, budgets, payment approvals and invoices through a single integrated platform. It is already used by thousands of clients. 

Spendesk recently raised a further $100 million, pushing its overall value past the $1 billion mark. It plans to employ a further 700 people in France. 

La French Tech couldn’t contain its joy. 

“We don’t ask ourselves what is going on, we know it: #FrenchTech is booming #26unicorns”, wrote the organisation in its Twitter account. 

La French Tech claims that beyond the 25 ‘unicorns’ valued at $1 billion or more, there are a further 20,000 tech start-ups in France and that half of French people use their services daily. The organisation says that this sector has already created 1 million jobs – and that this figure should double by 2050. 

“French tech is obviously about more than these unicorns, but I see them as an example, a model for the rest of the ecosytem,” said Macron on Tuesday. 

So who are the other unicorns leading the way? 


This start-up was created in 2016 and offers health insurance coverage for individuals and businesses. What differentiates it from standard health insurance providers, or mutuelles, is that it functions through an easy-to-use app. Individuals can send medical bills directly from their smartphone and be reimbursed almost immediately. Doctors can be reached through the app’s messaging and video call services. Employers can manage arrêts de travail the comings and goings of poorly staff directly through the interface. It is currently available in France, Belgium and Spain, counting 230,000 members. 


Ankorstore is an online marketplace aimed at supporting independent wholesalers – from florists to concept stores. It pitches itself as a platform to buy “authentic products and brands that e-commerce giants such as Amazon do not offer.” It is present in 23 European countries with offices in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.


This carpooling service has more than 100 million members across 22 countries. It connects drivers with people looking for a lift on a highly accessible app and website based platform. BlaBlaCar allows people to save money on transport and said that it saves 1.6 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2018 through ride-sharing – the platform has grown significantly since then. This company has also started running a bus service, BlaBlaBus. 

BlaBlaCar launched BlaBlaBus in 2019.

BlaBlaCar launched BlaBlaBus in 2019. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)


Backmarket is a website for buying used, unused or reconditioned electronic devices. The company sells everything from cameras, to laptops, to iPhones – at well below the market rate. Many of the products come with a warranty. The company is keen to emphasise its role in reducing electronic waste and carbon emissions involved in manufacturing new products.


This start-up has existed since 2012. It acts as a tool to allow website and app designers to monitor how their users behave while on their webpage/app. Contentsquare provides analytical information that can help to tailor websites to improve the digital experiences of users. 


Deezer is an online music streaming services similar to Spotify. It was founded in 2007 and counts 16 million active users. 


Doctolib is a platform that connects patients to medical professionals. Creating an account is free and allows you to book medical appointments, with filters such as the kind of care you want, the area of the medical practice and the languages spoken by the doctor. It runs via a user-friendly app and website and is available in France, Italy and Germany. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become the main way that French people have booked vaccination appointments. 


This company was founded by two engineers in 2014 and manufactures intralogistic robots. The technology is used in warehouses of retailers, supermarkets, e-commerce and industry. In essence, it is used to remove human labour from the supply chain. 


iad is a network where people can sign up to learn how to become an independent real estate agent – it also serves as a site where people can look for property to buy or rent. 14 percent of all properties sold in France in 2020 went through this platform according to one study. 


Ivalua is a tool used by organisations to manage spending and supplies. It operates largely though Artificial Intelligence and provides a wide range of functions designed to improve collaboration and decision-making. 


Ledger is a company that provides individuals and businesses an easy way to buy and sell cryptocurrencies and store these currency on USB-type hardware. If you get sick of that guy at work who never stops talking about Bitcoin, this is probably not one for you. 


This is a payment app that allows people with French bank accounts to send and receive money with other users, and is often used by friends to reimburse each other with small amounts for dinner, drinks, holidays etc. If you hold your savings in the app, you can benefit from a 0.6 percent interest rate. It also allows you to pay for things overseas without incurring fees. 


ManoMano is an online marketplace specialised in DIY and gardening equipment. It employs 800 people in 4 offices and operates across 6 European markets: France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK. It’s website sells products from more than 3,600 retail partners and stocks more than 10 million products. 


Patients can download this app after undergoing dental work. They can then use the secured system to send pictures of their teeth to their dentist (if the dentist is subscribed to the service). The start-up boasts that it can allow dentists and orthodontistes to carry out remote consultations and that the AI technology embedded in the app can automatically detect dental problems. 


Meero is a company that connects professional photographers to clients and vice versa. It organises one photo shoot every 25 seconds and has more than 30,000 customers around the world. 


Mirakl is a cloud-based e-commerce company that allows retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers to access a single online market place. The start-up aims to help other businesses scale-up their operations rapidly and describes its staff as “Mirakl workers” (as in the French ‘miracle’ pronounced me-rackluh). 


This start-up was founded in 1999 and is now Europe’s biggest cloud provider, offering both public and private information storage solutions. They also provide domain name registration, telecoms services and internet connection. 


Payfit is an automated payroll service that allows employers to save time dealing with spreadsheets and other systems. It is an intuitive bit of software already being used by 6,500 small and medium-sized businesses.


Qonto provides financial services to freelancers, self-employed people, small businesses, charities and new businesses. It provides solutions for managing expenses, accounting, invoices and payments. 


This company is based in Paris and helps global insurance companies to detect fraudulent insurance claims via artificial intelligence technology. 


This is a fantasy football game where users build and manage squads, trading, selling and buying players. It makes use of blockchain technology. French footballer Antoine Griezmann is a major investor. 

A tradable player card from Sorare.

A tradable player card from Sorare. Credit: Sorare


This is a financial and networking service for businesses and employees. It essentially is a bank card with an app that allows employers to issue anonymous surveys to employees, facilitate communication via a messaging service, organise collections and plan events. 

Vestiare Collective

This is an online marketplace for second-hand luxury fashion. Be aware that some items still cost thousands of euros, so they’re only ‘bargains’ in relative terms. 


This is an online and app-based service. Users can create an account for free to be alerted of upcoming sales of up to 70 percent on their favourite brands. It is available in eight European countries including the UK. 


Voodoo is a French mobile game developer and publisher. It provides help for video game developers to promote their work and councils them on the development process. In the past, Voodoo has come under fire for producing games that appear to be closely modelled on other games already on the market.