At a time when France is looking to shrink its government budget by €50 billion, new figures revealed that more than five million French employees are civil servants or "fonctionnaires" as they are known in France.
That's basically nearly 20 percent of the working population.
If that number seems high, data from the French statistics agency INSEE shows that in 2012, the most recent year available, the 5.5 million civil servants who were on France’s payroll were actually an increase on the previous year's total.
It was a less than one percent jump (.3 percent hike over 2011), though enough to continue the nearly yearly growth seen in the French civil service since 1980, French magazine L’Express reported.
Hospitals hired about 0.7 percent more workers in 2012, but it was public administration at the regional, departmental and local level that saw the biggest jumps. A 1.6 percent increase brought the number of civil servants working for these bodies to 1.9 million people. It comes as France seeks to reduce the number of its regions by half a move which some experts believe will have little impact on cutting France's bulky bureaucracy.
Some recent years, however, saw small drops in the number of civil servants in France, such as in 2009. Also their numbers declined by around 150,000 during former President Nicholas Sarkozy’s five years in power that ended in 2012.
By contrast, the lean years have been far more numerous in the United Kingdom. Its civil service had been shrinking for ten straight quarters by the start of 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Now as France tries to squeeze €50 billion in savings out of its budget over the next three years, these workers are in the sights of budget cutters. Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently announced the government would continue to reduce the number of government workers and streamline French bureaucracy.
Yet the French government also employs many others in addition to those with the status of “fonctionnaire”.
For example, most employees of the state-owned railway SNCF are not considered civil servants, yet their salaries still come from taxpayer's money. In 2012 the SNCF reported that it had 156,000 employees. Members of France's armed forces are for the most part also not included in the civil service total, nor is most of Paris’s massive transit authority RATP.
Though the United Kingdom appears appeared to have slightly more civil servants than France in 2012, with 5.9 million, that number includes all classes of workers from teachers, to police and the military. The number was expected to decline through 2013, but the data is not out yet.