How Bercy turned into pain at the expense

“Oops. ” In the monochrome corridors of Bercy, the reaction remained civilized. But senior officials of the powerful Ministry of the Economy and Finance will long remember this moment when Emmanuel Macron dropped his little bomb, the evening of his speech on March 12, 2020. “The government will mobilize all the financial means necessary to provide assistance, to take care of the sick, to save lives, whatever the cost”, did they hear it say, dumbfounded. Crisis obliges, many of them were still in their office in the Colbert building, one eye on the television screen. But none had been warned, not even the directors, heavyweights of the ministry. ” Houston, we have a problem “, one of them quipped.

Of course, there is this pandemic that is spreading like an oil spill over Europe and is forcing one economy to close one after the other. But this “whatever the cost”, it will have to be financed. The president is not the only one to decide: the appetite of investors for the French debt cannot be decreed. And, in recent days, the specter of a debt crisis has resurfaced, like the one that nearly broke the euro zone in 2012. “It was not at all certain that the markets would follow., remembers a figure of the house. We would not have had the European recovery plan and the ECB, we were leaving in the background … “

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To say that, for fifteen months, the administration of the Ministry of the Economy and Finance – this five-hectare liner installed since 1988 on the banks of the Seine, in the Bercy district, in the 12e arrondissement of Paris, with its multiple central departments, its 5,000 officials and its “ministerial hotel”, where up to three or four full-service ministers could live together – a nightmare would undoubtedly be exaggerated. But not completely wrong.

Normally, Bercy, it’s the ministry that says no, a bit like in the song. Visitors who come to ask for money usually leave disappointed. “We are going to bankrupt France”, apologize, contrite, those responsible for the budget department in a well-established number. The ministers also have their thing: Bernard Cazeneuve arranged to receive his colleagues just before lunch, betting on hypoglycemia to prevail. Others are content to sit them under the icy breath of air from the air conditioner, just to shorten the pleas.

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