Always the mammoth

The reduction in the number of civil servants comes up at each election. Why this anti-civil servantism, even though we praise public service? Why such hostility, even though once the electoral campaigns are over, it is rarely followed by effect??

This work constitutes a culmination, at least provisional, of the research that for many years, Milien Ruiz has devoted to the question of the number of civil servants in France. To write it, he mainly relied on his doctoral thesis, defended in 2013, which provided him with most of his materials, but he did not limit himself to providing a summary. Rather, he reconfigured the content, as well as the perimeter, this time pushing the analysis to the most recent period. This book is therefore not an occasional work, but it nonetheless resonates with current events, and strongly. Moreover, explains Milien Ruiz, it is the continuation of the 2017 presidential campaign, during which political leaders, economic actors and experts, called, after so many others and in the same obvious tone, for a reduction in the number of civil servants, that the idea came to him to write it. Its objective follows naturally from this: to do the work of a historian, of course, but also to shed light on a public debate that is too often obscured by simplifications of all kinds.

How many officials?

Reconstruct the evolution of the number of civil servants since the XIXe century is certainly not an easy thing, both because of the state of the documentation and the uncertainties which, since the beginning, have weighed on the definition of the French civil servant. Let us remember that the number of individuals concerned varies practically from 1 to 3, today, depending on whether we limit this definition to civil civil servants of the state or whether we extend it to the military and personnel holding territorial and hospital public functions.; yet, in doing so, we neglect the non-permanent agents, whose number, as we will see, continues to grow. It follows that the author cannot represent the evolution of the number of civil servants by means of a simple curve; he must proceed with partial clarifications, the significant value of which is however not in doubt. Thus, the graph on p. 60 eloquently shows how the number of state agents evolved between 1896 and 2018: moderate increase until the Second World War; sharper increase until the 1980s; tray then. The workforce therefore hovers around 2.4 million agents, six times more than during the Belle Époque. This is what allows us to affirm that (i)something happened XXe century (p. 55). The long movement of increase in the number of state agents is the consequence of the extension of state intervention, which owes a lot to the two world wars, and which particularly affected, during the Thirty Glorious Years, the social and cultural fields, but also emerging fields such as than the environment. As for the break in the 1980s, it can be explained, conversely, by the fact that the scope of state action then ceased to expand, and that decentralization laws transferred part of the attributions of the central state to communities.

This long-term increase in civil service personnel has constantly given rise to speeches of hostility. They can be grouped under the name of anti-officialisma word forged from that of civil servicethat the Large universal dictionary by Pierre Larousse defines, in his 1872 edition, as a system based on the existence of a large number of civil servants. In a way, it can be said that anti-civil servantism goes as far back as the civil service itself. If its intensity varies over the decades, it never disappears completely, so much so that the author sees in it the expression of a true obsession collective. Furthermore, anti-officialism is polymorphous. It is strongly nourished by the atavistic anti-Tatism of liberals, who, in the increase in the number of civil servants, are quick to see the mark of the growing, sprawling, so to speak, influence of the State over society. However, as the author shows, the denunciation of civil servantism is very often only a means of decrying the regime in place. This is clearly the use made of it, among others, by the adversaries of the parliamentary republic at the end of the XIXe century. Under Vichy and the Liberation, it even served as a pretext for administrative purge operations. But, here again, the 1980s were a break. From then on, in fact, the supporters of the reduction in the number of civil servants give up relying on reasons of a political or ideological nature; they only invoke the argument of budgetary constraints, which becomes in some way self-sufficient. Anti-officialism is apparently depoliticized.

Laporie hides programs degreasing

However, as the author points out, it is clear that there has always been a long way between the objurgations of the adversaries of the bureaucratic Leviathan, and the depth of the cuts which they or others subsequently made within the public service. Downsizing plans appeared after the First World War, accompanied by the argument, promising a bright future, according to which the savings thus made would be used to raise the standard of living of civil servants. This displayed voluntarism characterizes a large part of the interwar period.; he resurfaces the Libration and gives birth to the famous commissions of the ax And of the guillotine. But the results do not follow. According to Dmilien Ruiz's estimates, out of 200,000 job losses projected between 1945 and 1948, a little more than 50,000 ultimately took place. We find this same hiatus at the beginning of the XXIe century. The will of degrease the mammoth, to use an expression that has become commonplace, becomes stronger than ever. In 2005, the proposal to not replace one in two state civil servants for ten years ended, which Nicolas Sarkozy took up during the 2007 presidential campaign. It would certainly be wrong to say that this had no effect: nearly 100,000 jobs were lost. was deleted between 2007 and 2012; it remains, despite everything, that this result is much lower than the initial project. We could, in a certain way, extend the reasoning to the five-year term which is ending, even if, in this case, government impotence has a few very specific causes: the Yellow Vest movement first, then the health crisis. From this analysis, Milien Ruiz draws, in any case, the conclusion that French political leaders have always been unable to sustainably and significantly reduce the number of civil servants. This impotence derives, according to him, from their refusal, when it comes to business, to assume the consequences that such a program, if implemented with intransigence, would not fail to have an impact on the scope and quality of public service. L would, ultimately, be the main “taboo” (p. 191).

Growth of contractual employment and female employment

This demonstration forms the framework of the book, but it is completed by two other developments. In chapter 3, the author relates the history of the status of civil servants, particularly in the spotlight since the end of the XXe century. It also examines the related question of the development of contractual employment within the public service. The phenomenon is old. The First World War contributed greatly to this, then the Second. From the 1970s, the tenure of contractual staff became a recurring left-wing demand, which obtained satisfaction, to a certain extent, after the election of Franois Mitterrand in 1981. The 2000s, for their part, fundamentally changed the situation to the extent that, thus as Aurlie Peyrin had already shown, contractual employment then truly became normalized within the civil service. The author sees this as one of the expressions of a fundamental movement consisting of increasingly outsourcing public action, and he draws from it this interesting idea, according to which the increasing use of contractual staff makes it possible to circumvent the aporia identified above in the sense that it therefore becomes possible to ensure that the number of permanent civil servants does not increase, and possibly decreases, without the scope and quality of public service being visibly affected.

Finally, chapter 4 discusses the movement for women's access to public service. It is undoubtedly the least closely articulated with the main demonstration; but it does not interrupt the reading. After others, milien Ruiz recalls here that the feminization of public administration has been slow, seme mbches (p. 119) of both a regulatory and cultural nature. The progress made in the space of a century is considerable, which obviously does not mean that equality is still required between men and women, particularly with regard to access to the highest positions in the administrative hierarchy. Let us add that in the wake of the work of Virginie by Luca Barrusse, the author develops, in this chapter, a stimulating reflection on the way in which anti-officialism and the fear of depopulation came together for a time under the Third Republic on the grounds that, through their Malthusianism, civil servants would not only have actually contributed to the decline in births, but also set a bad example to the rest of French society.

History: an antidote to demagoguery

Certainly we are here in the presence of a documented book, vigorously and rigorously written, ultimately convincing. No doubt, once the reading is finished, we continue to ask ourselves some questions. We wonder, for example, how the phenomena that the author brings to light and dissects on the scale of the administration as a whole are expressed within the different sectors that make it up. But this is in no way a criticism, because the format of the book prohibited, from the outset, examining the question of the number of civil servants in all respects. The bet, whatever it may be, is held.

Over the course of these approximately 200 pages, Milien Ruiz provides solid materials that want to form a personal judgment on this important issue. Beyond that, it invites collective, democratic reflection on the place of public service in today's France, that is to say on its extension, its nature, its benefits, as the French understand them, its cost, as they understand it. also conceive; a reflection all the more urgent since, in fact, the public service has been transforming very quickly since the start of the new century. Will this call be heard? We are confident that among the supporters of degreasingmany will continue to maintain that the reduction in the number of civil servants can be achieved by simple gains in efficiency; and doubt that the investigations carried out as close as possible to the field, by the administration itself, which point out the harmful effects caused by certain cuts, such as this report from the general inspections of administration, finance and social affairs, dated 2012 and cited in the book , is enough to make them change their minds. They will, however, still have to explain how it is, against all odds, so difficult to reduce, ceteris paribus, the number of civil servants. Perhaps they will respond that yesterday's leaders lacked the political courage that will not be lacking in those they hope to see, tomorrow, preside over the destinies of the country. And history will begin again In any case, we can only recommend reading this work, particularly useful in this period of electoral campaign where, in this area as in other areas, analysis too often gives way to slogans and shortcuts.