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Archive for August, 2010

France to cut 10 billion in tax breaks

With France facing a budget deficit and aiming to make cuts in spending while increasing revenue for the government (and implementing reforms such as the controversial retirement age raise…), it’s no surprise that the government has made this move. For economic background, here’s a brilliant guide from the Economist on Europe’s debt crisis.

For now it seems like France is taking the right actions for now, as its debt ratings from Moody’s remain in good condition. But there have been concerns and warnings that France could face long-term debt problems and thus a credit down-rating (thus undermining their ability to finance the state debt through treasury bonds). Thus it’s important that France continues to reform its system (such as raising the retirement age from 60, the lowest in Europe).

This is from Agence France Presse, taken from the Expatica website.

France to abolish 10 billion euros in tax breaks

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday plans to abolish tax breaks worth 10 billion euros per year, as part of France’s plans to reduce its large public deficit.A statement issued after Sarkozy met his senior economic ministers said general taxation would not increase but that 10 billion euros (12.8 billion dollars) would be raised by abolishing various special tax regimes.

“Any resulting excess in revenues will be entirely assigned to reducing the deficit,” it said, promising to continue with policies of only replacing one retiring civil servant in two and of freezing local government funding. Sarkozy has vowed to maintain state spending at current levels, apart from interest payments and pensions, for the next three years as France battles to bring its ballooning deficit under control.

© 2010 AFP

Rick Steves: “Become a temporary European”

This article was originally posted on Expatica’s website, written by renown travel author Rick Steves.

It’s targeted more towards travelers abroad but has relevant implications for expats as well, especially those recently settling in. Excerpts below. How do you think it is best to adapt to your new country?

…Once you figure out where the locals hang, check out where they live. Ride a city bus or subway into the suburbs, then wander through some neighbourhoods to see how residents live when they’re not wearing lederhosen and yodelling. Visit a supermarket. Make friends at the launderette. Or mill around area schools and universities, checking out the announcement boards and eating at the cafeteria. Be alert and a little bit snoopy. If you stumble onto a grade-school talent show, sit down and watch it. You can even visit a university’s English-language department and ask about hiring a student (who’s learning English) as a private guide.

Even if you’re not a regular churchgoer, consider attending a European worship service. An hour in a small-town church provides an unbeatable peek into the community, especially if you join them for coffee and cookies afterwards. I’ll never forget going to a little church on the south coast of Portugal one Easter. A tourist stood at the door videotaping the “colourful natives” (including me) shaking hands with the priest after the service. You can experience St. Peter’s by taking photographs, or you can do it by taking a seat at Mass…

France among the most secular countries

August 10th, 2010 1 comment

According to this piece in The Economist, over 50% of French never go to religious services (except for special occasions like weddings and christenings). See chart below. What is even more interesting is the variety of results across Europe. The poll includes Russia and Israel but not Ireland, very curious, since Ireland is one of the most religious countries in Europe. No surprise for France, where secularism is a strong notion and part of the country’s cultural fabric, after centuries of domination by the Church in state affairs and wars of religion.

This is not to say there are not opportunities to participate in religious services in France (I know of English-speaking churches in Paris, for expats, for example). Au contraire. But it’s important to take into account cultural differences to understand a country’s collective mindset.

from the Economist, Aug. 9, 2010

Lyon’s airport gets a “tram-train” link to downtown

from Rhônexpress website

For those of you who have traveled to Lyon and resented taking the Satobus shuttle buses from Lyon St. Exupéry Airport to downtown Lyon, you now have a more modern alternative that gets you downtown (Gare Part Dieu, the main train station) in under 30 minutes. You can read an article in French about this here in Le Point.

Rhônexpress is the name of the brand new system, and you can find out more from its website, in French. Soon you will be able to buy tickets online.

The line is 22km (13.7 miles) long, it shares part of its track with the T3 tramway of the urban network TCL, it reaches a speed of 100km/hr (about 60 mph) and each of its 6 cars can hold up to 76 passengers. The tram-train will run from 5am to midnight, with service every 15 minutes.

As the article mentions, the ticket price will be higher than the 8.90€ for one-way Satobus; a one-way ticket costs 13€ (round-trip 23€), but if you buy a booklet of 6 tickets, the individual ticket price goes down to 11€. There are discounts being discussed at the moment for students and families (as is the norm for most transport), maybe free for under-12, as well as special rates for a combo TCL-Rhônexpress card, and possibly an SNCF-Rhônexpress card or rates. As for a combined rate for flight-Rhônexpress, however, that is less feasible, as the article highlights, because in case one or the other is late, there would be disagreements about reimbursing passengers based on responsibility.

This article quotes authorities of the project who expect to have 1 million passengers in the service’s first year. You can also read a background article in English here.

In any case, this is a welcome addition to the Lyon transport landscape, and I know I’ll be happy to take it.

Until then, bon voyage!

Tips on eating in France

This piece from Expatica, written by Vanessa Couchman, gives insight into eating meals in restaurants in France, with interesting details and advice especially for the newly arrived. What are your tips about making the most of French gastronomy?

Excerpt below. For full article click here.

Surely you always eat well in France? Well, actually, no. We have had some mediocre meals in restaurants with pretensions to haute cuisine. Equally, some of the best meals we have eaten in France have been at establishments that are less than prepossessing at first glance. France rightly has a reputation for its cuisine. Sometimes, however, it rests on its laurels. But there’s no reason why you should put up with that. Here are my 10 top tips for enjoying a meal out….

1. Avoid the tourist honey pots
You visit a picturesque town – possibly l’un des plus beaux villages de France – only to have your day spoiled by an indifferent meal. I’m not saying that all restaurants in such places are bad. Far from it; but you are more likely to feel ripped off and encounter poor service in a place where they rely mainly on passing trade. Go to the next village, which is likely to have a restaurant, and eat there instead….

AFP: Energy bill, euro fall, hit French trade balance

August 6th, 2010 1 comment

This article courtesy of AFP.

(PARIS) – The French trade balance showed a reduced deficit in June but an increased gap for the first six months of the year, data from the economy ministry showed on Friday.

In June the deficit fell to 3.796 billion euros (5.0 billion dollars) from 5.179 billion euros in May.

The fall came after exports picked up to total 33.0 billion euros in the month from 30.0 billion euros in May, helped mainly by sales of equipment for transportation, notably airliners.

But for the first six months, the deficit increased to 24.5 billion euros from 20.4 billion euros for the same period of last year.

The trade balance is an important indicator of the competitiveness of an economy and the ability of a country to pay its way in the world in trade in goods and services. The trade data form part of an even more critical measure of long-term fundamental forces in the economy, the balance of payments.

France has been running a structural trade deficit for some time, and analysts say that this reflects a number of underlying weaknesses in the economy.

The deficit over six months increased mainly because of an increase in the energy import bill, as denominated in the euro which has fallen against the dollar.

The ministry noted that exports had risen by 10.0 percent in the first half on a 12-month comparison and that for the second quarter they had risen by 6.0 percent.

Junior Trade Minister Anne-Marie Idrac said that this “shows the capacity of French exports to bounce back as the economy emerges from the crisis.”

She welcomed a particularly big increase in trade with emerging economies.

Separate data from the budget ministry showed that the central state budget showed a sharply reduced deficit of 61.7 billion euros at the end of June from 82.4 billion euros in the first six months of last year.

This reflected the ending of exceptional measures to stimulate the economy through the downturn and a rise of tax revenues, it said.

The central government budget is one of three components forming the public deficit, which is the figure used by the European Union to measure excessive deficits.

EU countries, and notably countries in the eurozone, are bound to contain any public deficit to less than 3.0 percent of output. Several countries, including France, have far higher ratios, notably because of the costs of facing the global economic downturn.

France, in common with several other countries, is now working on reforms to reduce its structural deficit.

How to vote abroad? Absentee Voting for U.S. 2010 General Election

The U.S. Embassy in Paris sent out this message recently to American residents abroad.

Absentee Voting for 2010 General Election
August 4, 2010
Eligibility to Vote

Voting eligibility and residency requirements are determined by the various U.S. states, and are available on-line in the Voting Assistance Guide at http://www.fvap.gov/resources/media/2010vag.pdf. Your “legal state of residence” for voting purposes is the state where you last resided immediately prior to departure from the United States. Voting rights extend to overseas citizens even though they may no longer own property or have other ties to their last state of residence, and even if their intent to return to that state may be uncertain. For those who have never resided in the United States, sixteen states allow certain U.S. citizens to register where a parent or spouse would be eligible to vote.

Voter Registration and Requesting an Absentee Ballot
Voters who have not yet registered to vote and requested an absentee ballot should do so by August 15, 2010 using the following steps to ensure that they receive their voting ballot on time:

1. Complete the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) using the instructions for your state in the Voting Assistance Guide. You may use a hard copy of the FPCA from any U.S. Embassy or Consulate in France, or use the online version.

2. Sign, date and mail the completed FPCA to the address listed in the Voting Assistance Guide. If you are sending the FPCA through international mail, please affix appropriate airmail postage. Alternatively, you can print out a postage-paid address label and ask any U.S. Embassy or Consulate to send your FPCA postage-paid through diplomatic pouch or the military postal service. Some states allow voters to send in the FPCA by fax, but they also require you to send in the hard copy by mail. Follow your state’s regulations precisely.

3. Send in a new FPCA if you have moved or changed your name since the last time you voted.
Voting

Beginning with the November 2010 general election, and for all subsequent general, special, and primary elections, state officials will be required to mail out ballots at least 45 days prior to an election for a federal office. Return your voted ballot as early as possible either through international mail or any U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Be aware of your state’s ballot receipt deadline, as well as any postmarking requirements.

Emergency Ballots
The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) serves as an emergency ballot for voters who registered in time but fail to receive an official ballot from local election officials. Please note: You must register to vote and request an absentee ballot by your state’s deadline to be eligible to use the FWAB. We strongly recommend that voters who have not received their ballot by October 2, 2010 complete and return the FWAB to ensure your vote is received in time to be counted.

Questions?

The official U.S. government website for overseas voters is the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website at www.fvap.gov.

The Voting Assistance Officer at the U.S. Embassy Paris is also always available to answer questions about absentee voting.

To contact the Voting Assistance Officer, call or send an e-mail to VoteParis@state.gov.
United States Embassy
American Citizen Services Unit
4, avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08
France
Telephone in France: 01 43 12 22 22
Telephone from U.S.: (011 33) 1 43 12 22 22
Website: http://france.usembassy.gov
E‐mail: citizeninfo@state.gov

Updated housing links

I’ve updated the housing, rentals and apartment links page with some more links, insurance information, as well as a word of caution to avoid scammers online. I just recently moved into a furnished studio in Paris 13th, and I rented an apartment in Grenoble so I have some experience in this domain.

Categories: Expat life Tags: , , ,

EU faces significant economic growth challenges

In a related WSJ piece, the conclusion is made that despite signs of improvement in the EU economy, there are underlying challenges that could surface as big problems. Excerpts below…to read more click on the link.

“…According to Markit, an expanding service sector is increasing French private sector output “at a strong pace,” and employment growth in that sector rose in July for the third consecutive month. And outside the euro zone Britain seems to be adding a bit of optimism to European-wide sentiment: The U.K. economy grew 1.1% in the second quarter from the first quarter—or an annual rate of about 5%—twice what forecasters had predicted and the fastest rate in more than four years….So much for what is obvious to the analyst’s naked eye. Look below the surface and we see something very different…”

Revitalizing French business and making France more competitive

This engaging piece in the Wall Street Journal Europe features the Director of MEDEF, the national employers’ association, Laurence Parisot, talking about the challenges facing French business and the EU in general, and how to overcome them to implement growth. What is your experience with French business, and how do practices in France differ from those in your home country?

Because WSJ is often paid-only access, I’ve posted the entire article below. Happy reading.

Breaking France’s Business Mold
EUROPE BUSINESS NEWS AUGUST 2, 2010

By CARL MORTISHED

Laurence Parisot is a household name in France. In a recent poll by Sunday newspaper Journal du Dimanche, the boss of French employers’ organization Medef featured alongside famous actresses as one of the country’s most popular women.

Until recently, the job of running Medef was an attractive sinecure for a retired industrialist, but the diminutive Frenchwoman has broken the mold, using the Medef platform to make business politically sexy; no mean feat in France, where for decades it was a dirty word.

A friend and confidante of President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom she met at Sciences Po, the elite political-science school, Ms. Parisot has just been re-elected for a second five-year term at Medef. Now, she wants to go further and use Medef to promote the interests of business across Europe, and she is looking to the Confederation of British Industry in London, the BDI in Berlin and Confindustria, the Italian employers’ lobby, to achieve that goal.

“In September we will make some initiatives between employers’ organizations between key European countries,” she says.

Ms. Parisot acknowledges that bringing national business interests together will be difficult and will require compromise. Each country has its strengths and its challenges.

Britain’s problem, she says, is its decision a decade ago to focus on financial services—a mono-industry, as she describes it—while France’s Achilles’ heel has been its slowness to bring about structural reforms.

“For Germany, the main problem is they are first in class and they are waiting for others to arrive at their level,” she says.

Ms. Parisot wants EU governments to rally round European champions. For example, she says, “London is the City. As a French person I would prefer it to be Paris, but as a European, I really prefer that we keep the City in London than that some new regulations, such as Basel III, push all the financial people to Hong Kong or Singapore.”

The Basel III reforms to banking regulation are a key concern for Ms. Parisot, who considers the tightened solvency rules a potential threat to the EU financial sector. The drive for tighter regulation is inspired in Washington, she says, even though the U.S. was slow to implement the Basel II rules.

“The danger comes from the U.S., and the impact on the cost of credit and volume of credit will be very significant. This is a very important competitiveness issue,” she says.

Last week she co-wrote with CBI Director-General Richard Lambert and the boss of the BDI a joint letter to the British, French and German environment ministers, castigating them for their support for deeper cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions.

The letter came after Chris Huhne, the U.K. energy secretary, and his French and German counterparts, Jean-Louis Borloo and Norbert Röttgen, earlier in July called on the EU to raise its target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 30% by 2020 from 20%.

“We were very upset,” Ms. Parisot says. “We wrote a tough letter to these ministers. To reduce by 20% our CO2 by 2020 is a big step which costs a lot and which is quite harmful in competitiveness.”

Ms. Parisot reckons Mr. Borloo’s stance hasn’t secured wide support within the French government, but Britain has set out its stall to be at the cutting edge of climate-change legislation. Ms. Parisot is worried climate change is one of many policy areas in which European business risks losing its competitive edge.

She also criticizes DG Competition, the EU’s antitrust directorate, for being too focused on the internal market, thereby hindering European businesses keen to join forces in order to face global competitors.

“DG Competition is less harsh towards Microsoft when it seeks to establish itself in Europe than when two Europeans wish to grow together. I am in favor of competition but it must be on the right scale. The scale today is the planet, with powerful new forces being built in Brazil, India, Indonesia. We must raise the bar together.”

Ms. Parisot wants European employers’ organizations to find common ground for some projects, even in the area of industrial policy, a subject she describes as taboo in Britain. For example, she argues, Europe needs to coordinate its efforts in nuclear power.

“Areva and Siemens split. Siemens is looking towards Russia and Areva towards Japan. Isn’t it crazy? We all know energy will be the most important thing for 20 years forward,” she says.

Ms. Parisot insists she is not an interventionist, and she has a track record in France of being on the political right, an economic liberal, opposing subsidies and campaigning for economic reform. She is a businesswoman to the core, having inherited Parisot Group, her family’s private furniture business. And with family backing, she bought 75% of Ifop, the French polling organization. In her first term at Medef she promoted key economic reforms, including raising France’s state pension age by two years, and she recently forced the government to retreat on measures such as the imposition of a carbon tax and curbs on executive pay.

She also describes herself as a “very strong feminist” and has promoted a new law, currently in Parliament, requiring that women make up 40% of the boards of leading companies.

It is a reform that strikes a personal chord for Ms. Parisot. Aged 50 and unmarried, she says she has battled discrimination at every stage of her career, and she reckons the climate for French professional women has deteriorated over the past decade.

“I encountered misogyny every day, every morning. Sometimes you don’t see it. Sometimes I didn’t understand why I didn’t get a contract,” she says.

She believes Europe needs to harmonize. Even on taxes? Yes, she says, and that means bringing business leaders to the political table. In the past, progress in Europe depended on good relationships between the French president and the German chancellor. Today, she says it has become too complex for governments alone to form policy and do deals. There must be a compromise and business must be part of the deal.

“That is why I push my colleagues from CBI, from BDI and from Confindustria. If we think European competitiveness is an issue, we have part of the responsibility to move forward,” she says, adding “If we continue [the way we are going], I am pretty sure we will be weaker and weaker. L’union fait la force. The potential if you put the U.K., France and Germany together. Can you imagine the potential that represents? If we don’t react, China will swallow us. And India, too.”

—Carl Mortished is a writer living in London.

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