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Winter storms hit France, Europe; flights disrupted

December 2nd, 2010 No comments

As you have probably seen on the news, snow and cold weather has hit large parts of Europe, including a good portion of France. Although Paris has been spared most of the snow, it is still quite cold here, in the low 20’s at night (-7 Celsius), more like an average Chicago winter day. But in other parts of France, my friends in Grenoble, Lyon, Annecy, Eastern France all report anywhere between 8 and 16 inches of snow, so it’s quite a significant snowfall. England and Germany have been hit hard, as well as Poland, Italy and several other countries.

You can get updates for France from Le Point where they say that likely 25% of flights at Roissy CDG are cancelled and 10% at Orly for Thursday. But they said snow will last another 24 hours in France before likely turning to rain. Authorities are having a difficult time de-icing and salting highways, so be careful driving in France. Here is a map of temperatures (Celsius) for Thursday in France.

CNN also covers the storm in Europe, and flights at airports like London Gatwick, Frankfurt and Munich have been significantly disrupted with cancellations and major delays (NB their 3rd picture is Lyon’s Place Bellecour). BBC writes that flights have been severely disrupted as well in Brussels, Vienna, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Geneva, Berlin, London Heathrow and Prague. Over 3,000 people in high-speed German trains had to spend the night in the train as they were blocked by weather. They too have pictures of the storm in Europe (once again with 4th picture in Lyon).

You can get travel updates for Paris airports here. Check with your airline as well and the airports for your cities. France24 has a comprehensive guide for travel in snow-covered France and Europe. High-speed rail like TGV in France has been somewhat delayed. Check Infolignes SNCF for alerts.

For French weather, check Météo France. Bundle up, save travels!

A cultural comparison: French strikes v. American perspective

October 23rd, 2010 9 comments

I found this BBC article by Matthew Price, former US correspondent and current Europe correspondent, to be especially insightful, from the perspective of a neutral Brit regarding Americans and France. Comments welcome. Excerpts below….

What would Americans think of the French strike?
Saturday, 23 October 2010
By Matthew Price
BBC News, France

‎”For the last three years I have been based in the US. And the only protests I have covered, the only ones vocal enough to have been worth reporting on, have been angry mobs demanding the government stop spending and get out of their lives.

Now, just one week into my new role as Europe correspondent, I am faced with angry mobs demanding the exact opposite – an end to government cut backs and a promise that the state will continue to provide for them. Talk about a change of scene…..

…Most French know the world has changed since the days of the all-embracing welfare state..They know the age of austerity inevitably implies an age of personal responsibility….And personal responsibility is something the Americans I have lived among for the last three years have adopted as a way of life…”

U.S. terror alert raised in Europe

October 4th, 2010 1 comment

New evidence has come forward recently on the European terror plot, leading the U.S. State Department to raise its level to an official terror alert.

There is information that Osama bin Laden has been linked to the financing of a terrorist plot in Europe in high-tourist density area (danke, Der Spiegel):

German Islamist Ahmad Sidiqi has delivered new details about the apparent new terrorist plot against Europe and the United States. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, he has told his interrogators that al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden approved the attack plans and also provided financing…He met with Sheik Younis al-Mauretani early this summer under conspiratorial circumstances in the city of Mir Ali in Pakistan, the German claimed. He said he discussed possible attacks in several European countries, including France and Britain. He allegedly claimed that Osama bin Laden had given his personal approval for the plans and that he had also provided some of the money that was needed for the attacks.”

So now the American authorities are urging citizens to be “vigilant” in Europe (BBC). So much so that the State Department is likely to raise this from travel alert to travel warning, the most serious level.

French authorities have detained a man who is suspected of threatening to bomb Paris St. Lazare train station, but no connection has been found to terror plots or networks. But European authorities have stated their approval of American warnings, saying that they too are being vigilant and increasing security presence in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and Berlin’s central train station have been said to be among targets for Mumbai-style commando executions. Stay safe and alert of your surroundings, but don’t let this hamper your travel plans; I just had a great weekend in London and now back to work in Paris.

Europe’s “austerity measures” hitting some hard

September 24th, 2010 No comments

In this New York Times special report, Europeans speak out on government plans across the continent to bring public finances under control amid corruption and suspicion of governments not doing enough for the common man. Well this currently in France amid protests against raising the retirement age as part of a larger pension reform package to help control spending. Those who are protesting see bankers getting large bonuses while they are forced to work longer. But France’s retirement age is the lowest in Europe and many French know that their social safety net cannot remain the same for future generations.

You can see a series of insightful video interviews from Athens, Madrid, Paris, London and Frankfurt here.

Also, an interactive map of Europe’s debt crisis.

“…Some acknowledged that they might have contributed to the crisis by spending beyond their means, and said there was probably no alternative to bailing out banks and countries like Greece to prevent a wider downturn. They are, grudgingly, willing to accept cuts in pensions and salaries, provided that politicians, whom they see as complicit in the crisis, quickly clean up the mess. Yet despite the problems, they would also be unhappy to see the European Union unwind…’We are part of a generation who knows that things can vanish,” said Mathilde Donovan, 29, a French public relations executive….”

Could the U.S. ever adopt the paid holiday systems of Europe?

September 1st, 2010 7 comments

Sorry for the long absence, I’m back. This BBC post by Michael Goldfarb reflects on the cultural differences in holidays and vacation time between the two sides of the Atlantic: Europe vs. the US. I know as an American in France, one of the things I appreciate (with fellow expats here) is the generous paid vacation time. 5 weeks per year is the legal minimum, not surprisingly put in place by Mitterand’s Socialist presidency nearly 30 years ago. Hard to reform the system and take away perks once people take those advantages for granted.

I think everyone loves vacation but that in the US, it’s an environment of peer pressure to work the hardest and longest hours. People love stating “I haven’t taken vacation in (insert long period of time)”, as if it’s a proof of dedication. The French workforce is one of the most productive and efficient, so I think the US could learn a thing or two and adopt a healthier work/life balance. This way of life is one of the things that attracts Americans to living in France. Your thoughts?

Excerpts from article below.

“…The figures in a 2007 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) are stark. It looked at 21 of the richest countries in the world, and found that only one, the US, does not impose a legal mandate on employers to provide time off.

Obviously, people in America do get paid annual leave, but for most wage earners it is subject to so many different calculations based on seniority and how much you earn, it can only be described as miserly. In other words, it is a privilege to be earned rather than a normal part of compensation.

Nine days of annual leave is what the average American accrues during the course of a year. So you have to be at your job for 12 months before you begin to get even that amount….Holidays as part of compensation are one of the small, subtle things that keep a workplace happy. Happy workers are productive workers in ways that can’t be measured statistically.

Whenever citing Americans’ acceptance of the longer hours they work or their lack of paid leave, the cliche is to say it goes back to the country’s Puritan heritage or the Protestant work ethic. I disagree. I think it comes from raw fear. Most Americans are not descended from Puritan stock. The people I have worked with in a variety of jobs – I wasn’t always a journalist – would have liked nothing more than a guarantee of 20 days of paid holiday a year.

But since the heyday of Thatcher and Reagan, they have been increasingly afraid to ask for it directly and way too afraid to come together and demand it as a group. It is easy enough to get fired in the US, and when people have a job they tend not to want to make waves….”

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

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…”

Eurozone crisis in graphics

BBC has a fantastic guide to an otherwise discouraging subject: the debt and deficit levels in the Eurozone. As you can see, France’s national debt is at 77.6% of GDP, and its deficit is 7.5%, which makes it about the middle of the Eurozone and enough for major concern.

One of the main causes of the currency crisis in the eurozone is that virtually all countries involved have breached their own self-imposed rules.

Under the convergence criteria adopted as part of economic and monetary union, government debt must not exceed 60% of GDP at the end of the fiscal year. Likewise, the annual government deficit must not exceed 3% of GDP. However, as the maps show, only two of the 16 eurozone countries – Luxembourg and Finland – have managed to stick to both rules.

Overall, Greece is the worst offender, with debt at 115.1% of GDP and a deficit of 13.6% of GDP. But among the bigger economies, Italy’s debt is even higher than Greece’s as a percentage of GDP, while Spain’s deficit is 11.2% of GDP. If the UK were in the eurozone, it would also fall foul of the criteria, with its debt now standing at 68.1% of GDP and its deficit at 11.5% of GDP.

Categories: Economics, Europe Tags: , , , ,

For British expats: London and Colonial launches EU SIPP for expats

November 17th, 2009 1 comment

London and Colonial launches EU SIPP for expats
International Investment| 16 Nov 2009 | 15:05
Author: Sitanta Ni Mathghamhna

London and Colonial has today announced the launch of the EU SIPP, for individuals resident outside the UK.

The EU SIPP is similar to UK SIPP but enables a wider range of investments including residential property in both the UK and EU, provided they are not used by either the SIPP member or a connected person.
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It allows for a tax free lump sum of 25% of the fund value to be taken from the age of 55, with the remainder providing income, which can be paid monthly, quarterly or annually. There is the additional option to receive ad hoc payments during the year.

The SIPP is primarily aimed at ex-patriot individuals who have been living outside the UK for five tax years or more.

Adam Wrench, Product Development Manager at London & Colonial, says: “When investors move abroad they typically leave their pension behind in the UK or transfer to a QROPS.

“Once they have been resident overseas for at least five tax years, transferring to the EU SIPP will give them more flexibility to manage their retirement options and to make provision for their dependents.”

The EU SIPP pays out 100% to beneficiaries on the member’s death, whereas in the UK, tax rules means up to 82% of an individual’s pension fund is lost on death, even if the member is a non UK resident at the time.

Adam Wrench adds “This provides the opportunity for estate planning to be undertaken knowing tax will not be automatically deducted from the pay-out.”

“Quite often where a husband and wife have emigrated together, in the event of the death of one of them the surviving spouse will return to the UK. With the EU SIPP the non-residency status of the scheme is locked in.”

Additional features of the scheme include no restrictions on borrowing either for the purchase of commercial or residential property or for other purposes, compared to a 50% restriction under UK SIPP rules.

France sees U.S. as main obstacle to climate deal

November 16th, 2009 1 comment

Reuters

By Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS, Nov 15 (Reuters) – The United States is the main obstacle to concluding an ambitious agreement at the Copenhagen meeting on climate change next month, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Sunday.

Speaking after world leaders meeting in Singapore said it was unrealistic to expect binding targets to be negotiated by the time the meeting starts on Dec. 7, Borloo said Washington was posing the biggest difficulty.

“The problem is the United States, there’s no doubt about that,” Borloo, who has coordinated France’s Copenhagen negotiating effort, told Reuters in an interview.

“It’s the world’s number one power, the biggest emitter (of greenhouse gases), the biggest per capita emitter and it’s saying ‘I’d like to but I can’t’. That’s the issue,” he said.

Borloo’s comments follow a joint declaration by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Saturday, aimed at committing rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Borloo said France was looking at an option that would allow countries that had not signed up to the Kyoto protocol, including the United States some leeway, possibly including allowing it an extra delay of some years to meet targets.

“There needs to be international pressure on the United States, that’s clear,” Borloo said. “But at the same time, we have to allow some flexibility in the formulation.”

But he said this did not mean compromising on the need for an “irreversible, binding and measurable” commitment.

World leaders agreed on Sunday to a two-stage plan aimed at securing a political accord at the Dec. 7-18 talks, to be followed by a process of working out binding commitments on targets, finance and technology transfer.

This would allow time for the U.S. Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a major U.N. climate meeting in Bonn in mid-2010.

Borloo said such a deal could not be allowed to get in the way of binding commitments. If a political agreement “means vague and non-binding declarations of intent, the answer is no,” he said.

“Behind the word ‘political’ there has to be precise declarations with figures,” he said.

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