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Former French President Sarkozy back in the limelight for 2017

Sarko_2017

The Economist is one of many publications profiling former French President Nicolas Sarkozy following his recent announcement that he’ll run again for the 2017 French Presidential elections. Excerpts below. What do you think of this possibility, and of the burkini ban controversy?

Mr Sarkozy formally announced his decision in a new book, “Tout pour la France” (Everything for France), published on August 24th. The next day he was due to take to the stage in the south of France for his first campaign rally. Mr Sarkozy’s platform, as outlined in the book, is a hallmark mix of economic liberalism (lower taxes, longer working hours, later retirement) and right-wing identity politics (tighter citizenship and immigration rules, a tougher stance on Islam and integration)…

…On the face of it, Mr Sarkozy’s chances of securing the nomination for “Les Républicains” (the Republicans), and getting his old job back, are not high. In polls among voters on the centre-right, he consistently trails Alain Juppé, a patrician former prime minister. A recent poll by TNS Sofres puts the gap at 30% to 37%, with François Fillon, another former prime minister, at just 8%. A broader sample of French voters also expects Mr Juppé to come top, by a big margin. Mr Sarkozy’s head-spinning mercurial style, and his tendency to prefer grandiose gestures over policy follow-through, have lost him support among centrists, who see Mr Juppé as a less divisive figure…Yet Mr Sarkozy is also a past master of the political comeback…

…Mr Sarkozy’s calculation is that, after 18 months of deadly terrorist attacks, voters on the right want a hard line on security and political Islam…A former interior minister who once set up a ministry of national identity, Mr Sarkozy has more of a record on such matters than does Mr Juppé…The French return next week for la rentrée, the start of the school year, with the country still under a state of emergency. Given such stress, political divergences are readily amplified. The primary campaign, and the election next spring, could turn out to be ugly as identity politics are thrust to the fore…

Where to find petrol (gas) in France

The Local France has an interactive map of where to find gas (petrol) stations that have supplies. They also have a map of where the gas shortage is being felt the worst.

The Economist has some essential reading from May 27 that covers the recent mayhem including more than 2,300 petrol stations that are either dry or rationing portions.

Travel wisely and be safe. I’ll be Tweeting updates from my handle @AmExpatFrance.

Strikes in France – what to know

France strikes - taken from The Economist (link below)

France strikes – taken from The Economist (link below)

Essential reading from The Economist (May 27)
Article here focuses on all that is going on in France.

Update May 27 from US Embassy Paris:

Full link to travel advisory

“…The following strikes have been announced for the week of May 30:

Rail – The national unions which represents rail workers renewed their call for strikes limiting rail services along the TVG, RER and SNCF networks. An “unlimited strike” is scheduled to start at 9 am on Tuesday, May 31 for a period of at least 24 hours.

Paris-area Public Transportation – The union representing the Paris metro area transportation (RATP) has called for an “unlimited strike” starting on June 2 of all public transportation services, including the Paris metro, buses, and RER trains.

Air – Air traffic controllers have also called for strikes Friday, June 3 to Sunday, June 5 which could result in delays or cancellations of flights originating in France…”

By now, you have probably heard that France has been undergoing rounds of strikes and protests over the past couple months. This is in large part due to proposed labor reforms. Of course most of you know that strikes and public outcry are a way of life in France that most people tend to accept with a shrug.

The Local France has an interesting piece on this cultural reality, as well as countless publications in the past including BBC and Slate. Even The Onion got in on the humor with a fake French protest image back in 2005.

But this time seems to be different: these are arguably the strikes with the most impact in 20 years. Taken with the ongoing “state of emergency” that France has put into place since the November terrorist attacks (and have extended), France has a palpable undercurrent of tension.

For now, what you should know about the strikes: 
These strikes are affecting transportation, oil refineries, nuclear power stations and more throughout the country. The BBC outlines the main points of the proposed reforms here along with more coverage of the action. I’ve laid those out at the end of this post.

The Economist also has an interesting piece on the strikes – anticipating action throughout the summer.

Another useful guide is from the great folks at The Local. Local resources in France for tracking news updates include the SNCF website, which currently states that traffic should start resuming to normal May 27 but to keep abreast of updates. Their travel agency Voyages SNCF also has a helpful resource for train travel updates.

You should also stay abreast of airline travel through your local airline. Aéroports de Paris does have general updates as well for Paris Orly and Paris CDG traffic.

BFM TV, Libération, France 24 and Le Monde are also great resources.

At the time of this being published, there have been clashes reported by protestors in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and other major cities. Your local embassy should be the best resource for expat nationals living and traveling in France for up to date security information. The US Embassy, for example, has contact info here and updates on their Twitter feed.

Want to brush up on your French travel vocabulary? Try About.com or FluentU.

If you have travel plans to France or are thinking of moving there in the coming year, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so – just do your research and travel intelligently. I have lived in France for 30% of my entire life at different times as an intern, student, grad student, English teacher and employee. It is a place that is dear to me, and I would love for you to also have those life-changing experiences.

Travel smartly, safely and avoid protest areas. Take a lesson from my French friends and enjoy life, drink some wine and sit back to see how this evolves. C’est la vie, enfin.

French labour reform bill – main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

France investing in its start-ups, launches new visa

The Economist recently had an interesting piece on multiple initiatives (by government and private venture capital investment alike) to encourage a blossoming of start-ups that Paris has not seen in years.

How this impacts you as potential or current expats: “Axelle Lemaire, the (Canadian-born) minister visiting NUMA, has launched a “tech visa” for foreign entrepreneurs.”

To learn more about this visa and the overall project to support French tech start-ups, you can peruse La French Tech.

Also of note: France is embarking on a “Come Back Home” campaign abroad to try to convince accomplished French expats to return to their homeland to help take the start-up economy to the next level.

I’ve included the Economist text below. Have any of my readers attended recent events in France (both Paris and other cities) related to start-up and tech investment?

Reinventing Paris
Start-up city

A capital seen as a museum develops new pockets of high-tech modernity
Jun 13th 2015 | PARIS | From the print edition

THE café is organic, the décor industrial loft-style and the furniture artfully mismatched. This is NUMA, a digital hub in Paris, where facial hair is abundant and ties are non-existent. Perhaps it is insouciance, ignorance or quiet concentration, but when a government minister turns up, nobody notices. A new generation is trying to reinvent how Paris behaves and looks.

It may not be Berlin or London, but something is taking place in the capital’s fringes and deserted industrial spaces. A city with more beauty and heritage than most, Paris is trying to shrug off its staid image. Scarcely a week goes by without an event devoted to start-ups in a converted dock or warehouse in an unfashionable area. On Paris’s eastern edge, Xavier Niel, an entrepreneur who heads a €12 billion ($13.5 billion) communications group, is building a start-up incubator with floor space equivalent to four football pitches. In the first quarter of 2015 a Paris venture-capital firm was joint-top investor in European technology start-ups, with two German companies, according to CB Insights, an American research group.

“There has been a transformation of mentalities in France,” says Mr Niel, who urges young people to take risks, think big and break conventions. “Entrepreneurship is a state of mind” reads a banner at NUMA, also home to Google’s Paris campus. The outlook is anti-hierarchical and anti-conformist. “Our force is cultural chaos,” says Frédéric Oru, a co-director. Another NUMA executive adds: “It’s not very French.”

One reason for change is that the young are no longer drawn to corporate life. Unemployment among graduates is 10%, and one in five of those who create new businesses are jobless. But some just want to do their own thing, away from the strict hierarchies of corporate France. A quarter of recent graduates of HEC, the top business school, have started their own company, up from one in ten a decade ago.

Second, successful entrepreneurs and investors now show what is possible. Mr Niel, who also built a software-development school in Paris, is one. Sigfox, a start-up that runs a cellular network for connected objects, pulled off the third-biggest European tech deal in the first quarter of 2015 when it raised $115m. BlaBlaCar, Europe’s biggest car-sharing service, raised over €100m last year. Incubators with names like TheFamily have grown. Facebook is opening a research centre on artificial intelligence in Paris.

Third, the Socialist government, which once whacked entrepreneurs with taxes, has changed. Instead of lamenting the loss of fine brains, it hopes to lure in foreign ones. Axelle Lemaire, the (Canadian-born) minister visiting NUMA, has launched a “tech visa” for foreign entrepreneurs. A public-investment fund, BPI France, is promoting start-ups. Early efforts to back incubators met “indifference and scepticism”, recalls Jean-Louis Missika, a deputy to the Socialist mayor, because “that wasn’t the image of Paris.” City Hall now wants to show that Paris is not just a living museum.

It is odd that the city lost its reputation for innovation. From avant-garde art to industrial engineering, it used to push the boundaries. The 1878 Paris World’s Fair showcased electric light; in 1889, the Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest man-made structure. More recently, the urge to preserve has stifled innovation. Yet Paris is learning to reconcile history and modernity. On the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, a park, an elegant glass-and-steel structure designed by Frank Gehry for the Louis Vuitton art collection has met with admiration. Slowly, almost despite itself, Paris is rediscovering an innovative spirit.

Commerce on dimanche: Should France expand Sunday store hours?

February 13th, 2015 No comments

Bonjour! I hope your new year is off to a great start.

As many veteran and new expats alike know, stores and shops in France tend to be closed or have limited hours on Sundays – especially outside of big cities. How many times have you needed groceries after 7pm on Sunday only to have to wait until Monday? This is not the experience in all stores – but it is often the case outside of Paris.

According to The Washington Post, France is currently debating whether or not to increase the number of Sundays shops can be open per year.

It is perhaps a surprising move from the French Socialist Party, but not as surprising knowing that the French presidential cabinet has appointed in recent months more conservative, business-friendly ministers like Macron who are cozying up to capitalism.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share and post comments!

Bon weekend à tous !

France may finally allow more shops to open on Sunday
By Rick Noack
February 12, 2015

Baker Stéphane Cazenave is said to produce France’s best baguettes. However, according to French law, he can only produce those baguettes six days a week.

Cazenave had ignored that rule because demand for his baguettes was so high that he was able to employ 22 people seven days a week. Instead of being applauded, Cazenave now faces a lawsuit. “People see me like a thug just because I asked to work,” he told France Television. “Working shouldn’t be a crime in France.”

It might seem strange to Americans, but French businesses are often closed on Sundays in most parts of the country and are only allowed to open five times a year that day. Despite the French tradition of separating religion and state, labor unions and Catholic lobbies have so far succeeded in defending Sunday as a sacred ‘day of rest’ for the entire country.

This, however, could change. To many French, the current debate about allowing more businesses to open on Sundays is of a fundamental nature: Should the country become more commercial and capitalistic?

French President François Hollande believes so. He shocked many when he recently announced he would pursue a law known under the name of France’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron. The initiative aims to liberalize the country’s bureaucratic economy. For Hollande, a lot is at stake: Having so far been unable to decrease unemployment and boost growth, his popularity has sunk dramatically.

The law — pursued by a leftist Socialist Party government — is supposed to end a variety of monopolies and allow more competition, but its most contentious proposal is to allow stores and businesses to open more often. According to the draft, they could soon operate on 12 instead of five Sundays a year. Cities could decide on their own whether they would implement the rule, and there are exceptions in areas, such as in Paris.

One of the 2012 election promises of Hollande had been to keep Sunday a day of rest. Hence, breaking with this promise has been interpreted by some in France as a sign of governmental despair with an uncertain economic impact.

Critics are outraged. “It is a moment of truth speaking to the one question that truly matters: What kind of society do we want to live in?” former French employment minister Martine Aubry asked in an op-ed in Le Monde in December.

“Does the political left have nothing else to offer as a societal model than a Sunday stroll to the mall and the accumulation of consumer goods? Sunday should be a time set aside for oneself and for others,” Aubry argued.

Without actually naming it, Aubry implied what she did not want France to become: a country with a 7-days a week consumption culture as it is common in the United States. France is not the only country in which shopping is limited on Sundays: Germany, for instance, has upheld similar regulations.

When France’s economy surprisingly started to grow slightly at the end of 2014, it was mainly due to domestic consumption. Allowing consumers to spend money seven days a week instead of only six could boost the country’s outlook, some said.

Others, however, are more skeptical. “The bill is a ‘catch-all’ text that does not address France’s serious structural issues,” Emmanuel Martin, Director of the Paris-based Institute for Economic Studies-Europe, told The Washington Post. “France’s issues are structural: a bloated government administration both at the central and local level which generates inefficient regulations, inefficient spending and of course then, higher growth-killing taxation.”

Even though Martin is not convinced of the law, he acknowledged it does sometimes feel like something from another era. “For sure, it feels weird to see shops closed in a major shopping street of Paris — one the most beautiful cities of the world,” Martin said.

How attractive is France’s investment environment?

December 17th, 2012 1 comment

The French-American Chamber of Commerce (FACC) posted the following summary of a report recently carried out by consulting and accounting firm KPMG.

The full report is available here, entitled “Facts & Figures on France’s Investment Attractiveness”.

Probably a good idea to check out other resources as well.

There is an interesting report by The Economist in their “The World in 2013” edition that highlights the likely challenges facing President Hollande’s administration in the next year including the difficulty in encouraging business growth and more investment.

While France remains a country that retains an attractive profile, there is a real risk that increasing taxes and a morose business climate could take hold and hamper growth in 2013. So although France has a lot to offer, it must make progress to improve the business climate and decrease unemployment. It’s not an easy time for Europe, and France will not be an exception. But as the adage goes, “no pain, no gain”.

From: Invest in France Agency

In the competition with other European countries to attract inward investment projects, France boasts a number of key strengths underpinning its investment attractiveness.

These advantages include:
– A large, dynamic market in Europe.
– A skilled, productive workforce.
– Recognized support to foster innovation.
– A plentiful supply of commercial real estate.
– Dense, high-quality transport infrastructure.
– High-quality energy and telecommunications at competitive rates.
– Renowned quality of life.

According to KPMG’s “Competitive Alternatives” biennial guide to business costs in over 100 cities in nine different countries, France stands out for having particularly attractive business setup costs, comprising labor costs, facility costs, transport, utility costs (electricity, natural gas, telecommunications) and corporate tax. In the 2012 edition, France was ranked fourth among the countries compared, up two places from sixth in the previous rankings (2010).

The Economist’s France 14-page special report

November 19th, 2012 3 comments

The Economist this week has a 14-page special report this week in its print edition that focuses on France, from its economy to politics, under the central theme of how economic structural reform is necessary in order to avoid a “time bomb” going off at the heart of the Eurozone. You can access the Nov. 17, 2012 print edition contents here. The leader article introducing the special report is here, and the special report link can be found at the table of contents site under “Special report: France” (there are 8 articles).

I’m delving into all this right now and encourage you to do the same. Even if you don’t agree with the magazine’s analysis, it is a highly-regarded publication for a reason: for asking important questions.

This is the not the first time the British news magazine has waxed poetic about France’s economic woes and potential for growth. Indeed, French economic and business paper Les Echos puts past covers and stories into perspective (in French).

What do you think are France’s biggest problems and do you think Hollande and Ayrault’s government can solve them?

 

French technological innovation and efficiency for cutting costs

November 25th, 2011 2 comments

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving, and for those celebrating this weekend (comme moi), enjoy the festivities!

The Economist has an interesting piece in this week’s issue that talks about the newly automated line 1 of the Paris metro system which was completely outfitted with new technology and revamped to make it driverless.

Besides having better and more service during rush hour and a lower risk of accidents (automated line 14, which I take quite often, has had no accidents since its launch in 1998), the modernization of services also results in a welcome side effect for many: these automated lines will not be affected by the occasional public transport worker strikes since there are no drivers (see excerpt below).

What is your view on technology and innovation in France? Do you think labor costs are too high and discourages employers from hiring more often?

“…Strict labour laws, costly payroll charges and erratic strikes seem to make French firms especially keen on technology. Supermarkets, for instance, have enthusiastically adopted self-checkout tills. “All French hypermarkets have adopted this strategy over the past few years,” says Alexis Lecanuet at Accenture, a consultancy. The idea is to speed up queues at peak times for impatient non-technophobes carrying light baskets. But it also cuts costs. “Self-checkout has worked better in countries where labour is expensive,” says Serguei Netessine, a professor at INSEAD, a business school.

France excels at high-tech services: credit-card operated petrol stations, touch-screen fast-food counters, automatic car-washing. Two years ago, McDonalds pioneered the use of touch-screen, credit-card-based ordering in its French fast-food restaurants. Eléphant Bleu, a self-service high-pressure car-washing chain, has 472 outlets in France, and is expanding. All this in a country where the labour code runs to over 3,300 pages, an employer pays an average of 39% in payroll taxes, and unemployment is at 10%. Spot the connection.”

Why do the French often have a difficult relationship with work?

November 21st, 2011 7 comments

The Economist has an interesting business column that recently addressed the relationship that French workers have with their jobs. Over the past years, people abroad have heard of disgruntled factory workers “boss-napping”, holding different kinds of strikes and working 35 hour weeks. These are stereotypes, and most French workers are at the office more than 35 hours. In fact average work time for full-time employees is 41 hours) and all employees taken into account, 39.4 hours. I know I work more than that!

According to several studies, France has one of the world’s most productive work forces. As recent as 2009, they had the world’s most productive work force (description of productivity).

This site has some benefits of doing business in France, as well as some challenges.

Incidentally it appears that often management teams at many French companies are responsible in part for this unhealthy relationship, as many directors come from a few grandes écoles (elite schools) and thus career advancement can be hindered within companies that retain top-down power structures with a few elite at the reins.

However, the article (below with some boldfaced parts) cites companies such as Danone which has been refreshingly open to basing promotions on skills rather than which elite school an employee attended. Other companies cited are Alcatel-Lucent and Schneider Electric.

What do you think? Do you agree, disagree? What is your experience working in a French company with French workers?

Schumpeter
The French way of work

Managers must shoulder some of the blame for France’s troubled relationship with work
Nov 19th 2011 | from the print edition

EVERY year, Sophie de Menthon, a French entrepreneur, holds an event called J’aime ma boîte (I love my firm) in Paris. The idea is to counter the notion that the French don’t like work. Employees are enticed to make lip dubs (a video of them lip-synching to music, if you need to ask), massage each other, vote for the nicest colleague, arrange for the accountant to swap jobs with the secretary and other stunts to celebrate their firm.

The much-mocked campaign has not had much luck. In 2007 a national strike interrupted the festivities, and in 2009 a series of suicides at France Télécom spoilt the atmosphere. This year employees showed less love for their boîte than ever before. Only 64% of those polled liked their company, down from 79% in 2005.

A truer reflection of work attitudes came this summer when French workers covered office windows with huge pictures made up of Post-it notes. Employees at GDF-Suez, a utility, stuck thousands of them to the windows of its HQ near Paris to represent Tintin, a comic-strip hero. Société Générale’s bankers responded with a picture of Asterix and Obelix across six storeys. A few employers cracked down on the time-wasting, but most did not dare.

Many outsiders conclude that French workers are simply lazy. “Absolument Dé-bor-dée!” (“Absolutely Snowed Under”), a book which came out last year, described how state employees compete to do nothing at work. Another title in this bestselling genre on avoiding toil, “Bonjour Paresse” (“Hello Laziness”) by Corinne Maier, an economist, explained how she got away with doing nothing at EDF, another utility.

In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.

Two-fifths of employees, according to a 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm, actively dislike their firm’s top managers. France ranks last out of ten countries for workers’ opinion of company management, according to a report from 2007. Whereas two-thirds of American, British and German employees say they have friendly relations with their line manager, fewer than a third of French workers say the same. Many employees, in short, agree with Ms Maier, who recommends that chief executives be guillotined to the tune of “La Carmagnole”, a revolutionary song.

If French work attitudes are out of the ordinary, French management methods are also unusual. The vast majority of chief executives of big firms hail from one of a handful of grandes écoles, such as École Polytechnique, an elite science school. Through what is known as parachutage, they can arrive suddenly from the top ranks of the civil service. Air France KLM, for example, announced unexpectedly last month that its new chief executive would be Alexandre de Juniac, formerly chief of staff to Christine Lagarde when she was France’s finance minister.

Although the grandes écoles are superbly meritocratic—candidates compete against each other in a series of gruelling exams—their dominance of corporate hierarchies makes workplaces much less so. At a big French bank recently, a manager promoted an executive, only to be reproached by a furious rival who said he should have been given the job because he had done better in the final exams at the same grande école.

As Thomas Philippon, a French economist, pointed out in “Le Capitalisme d’Héritiers”, a 2007 book, too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. A study of seven leading economies by TNS Sofres in 2007 showed that France is unique in that middle management as well as the lower-level workforce is largely disengaged from their companies.

For those farther down the ladder, French companies are hierarchical, holding no truck with Anglo-Saxon notions of “empowerment”. And bosses are more distant than ever. A big change in French management, says Jean-Pierre Basilien of Entreprise & Personnel, a Paris research centre, is that industrial managers now seldom rise through the ranks. Fifteen years ago a leading graduate would have worked in factories before moving to headquarters. Now many come up via finance or strategy.

From the ranks

There are important exceptions. Danone, a food-products firm, is one. It has made a big effort to promote people solely on competence, says Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts, a professor at HEC, a business school which is one of the elite grandes écoles. The 2006 merger of Alcatel, a French telecoms-equipment firm, and Lucent, an American one, created a less hierarchical group. Alcatel-Lucent even encourages teleworking, uncommon in France because it means trusting workers not to goof off. Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chief executive of Schneider Electric, an ambitious energy-management firm, came up from the ranks.

French companies have particular reason to worry now about their bad boss-worker relations. An important factor in the growing gap in industrial competitiveness between France and Germany, said a recent study by Coe-Rexecode, an economic-research centre, is that German bosses and employees are better than French ones at working together. French bosses badly need to follow in the footsteps of Danone and other modernisers. If they try and fail, then at least they can blame the workers.

Again in innovation, French companies score high marks

November 16th, 2011 No comments

It must be innovation week…

In another poll on innovation (Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators), France has 11 companies on the list (the 3rd most behind Japan with 27 and America with 40). The brilliant chaps over at The Economist have a nice article on this, below here for easy reading (France boldfaced for emphasis on my part).

Where innovation lies
Nov 16th 2011, 16:54 by The Economist online

Where are the world’s most innovative companies and what do they do?

Companies that make semiconductors and other electronic components are collectively the most innovative industry, according to an analysis of patents carried out by Thomson Reuters, an information-services provider. Its “Top 100 Global Innovators” report rates companies by the proportion of their patent applications that are granted; the number of “quadrilateral” patents (those granted in China, Europe, Japan and America); how often patents are cited by other companies; and whether patents relate to new techniques or inventions or are refinements of existing ones. This approach is intended to overcome the limitations of using the number of patents filed or granted as a measure of innovation. Of the 100 companies in the list, which is not ranked and relates to patent activity from 2005-2010, 40 are from America, 27 from Japan and 11 from France. No Chinese companies qualified. The report says this “underscores the fact that although China is leading the world in patent volume, quantity does not equate to influence and quality.”

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