Family Policy Is Not WelfarernLessons From the French Experiencernby Jean-Didier LecaillonrnFamily policy is strangely absent from debates in Europern(the word “famiK” plays no part in the treat}’ of EuropeanrnUnion signed at Maastricht). In France, however, it has becomernthe object of numerous controversies. P’rom these debates,rnseveral lessons can be drawn which would enable policymakersrnto avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.rnFrance is often cited for having developed an original modelrnof family policy, but that model was not built up in a day, andrnoer the years it has progressively deteriorated. A careful analysisrnof this experience should help us to avoid reproducing thernsame confusions or falling into the same traps.rnAny serious reflection, to be useful, requires agreementrightrnfrom the beginning—on the nreaning of words. At thernsame time, to be practical, that is, to find solutions assured ofrngiving positive results, it is essential to know what one is talkingrnabout, and this brings us to a distinction which is at the heart ofrnthe entire question of family policy, the distinction between socialrnpolicy and family policv.rnThe expression “social policy” makes us think first of everythingrnthat concerns life in society. But under so broad a definition,rneach and every policy ends up being social in this sense.rnTo speak at such a level of generality is close to saying nothing.rnIt is better to take “social” in its second sense, which refers tornprograms aimed at improving the condition of the least advantaged.rnA related expression would be “assistance” or “welfare,”rnand it derives from the concept of the welfare state.rnThe purpose of this sort of policy would be the strugglern]ean-Didier Lecaillon is a professor of economics at the Universit)’rnof Paris. This article is translated from a speech given inrnWarsaw as “Politique Familiale, Politique Social: Un DistinctionrnSociale.”rnagainst a condition which is neither desired nor desirable:rnpoverh’. hi the beginning, the object is to alleviate the harshnessrnof povert)’ by reducing the negative effects. But in the end,rnit becomes a question of doing everything possible to eliminaterna condition that is considered inherently evil.rnThis aspect of the welfare state provides a criterion that allowsrnus to make a fundamental distinction between social policyrnand family policy: The vocation of the former is to eliminaternitself, since the disappearance of a social policy is the bestrnsign that it has worked; the more ephemeral a social policy is,rnthe better it has done its duty to the extent that the evil it wasrncreated to combat has disappeared.rnI’he same reasoning does not apply to family policy, unlessrnthe family is considered as a sickness, an obstacle, a handicaprn—in short, a condifion to escape from as quickly as possible.rnIf, on the contrary, we regard the family as something thatrndoes good, and if we want families to flourish, then any policyrnthat promotes this mode of social organization ought to be establishedrnfor the long haul. By definition, then, a family policyrnaims at prolonging the condition which it was created to addressrnand not at eliminating the condition.rnOn the level of fact, however, things are not so clear. Thernreasons used to justify the adoption of a family policy are diversernand vary from age to age and country to coimtry. Also,rnfamily policy is rarely given institufional recognition under thernform of a cabinet ministry or of a government department.rnThis absence, undoubtedly, can be explained bv the all-inclusivern(or “global”) character of family policy: Questions thatrntouch the family are so broad that every government departmentrncan justifiably claim to be concerned. But in pracfice, itrnis the ministers of social affairs who take on responsibilify forrnfamily matters, and they are trained to eliminate problems,rnMAY 1999/1 7rnrnrn