Life to get simpler as France cuts red tape

France is to launch a series of "modernisation" measures on Wednesday aimed at simplifying its dreaded bureaucracy and make life easier for the public. From driving penalty points to restaurant tickets, here’s a breakdown of the main changes.

Life to get simpler as France cuts red tape
No more waiting in line? Not quite, but France is set to launch reforms aimed at making it easier for individuals and businesses to interact with the state. Photo: David Morris

French bureaucracy is notoriously slow and for most expats, very confusing. But the French government is aiming to make it a little bit easier.

On Wednesday, a set of 201 measures were due to be launched, that could go some way to making “l’administration” more modern and user-friendly.

The government says the measures will save the country €3 billion ($3.9billion) in 2014 by speeding up and simplifying the interactions between the French state and those who live and run a business in the country.

Many will say the move is long overdue.

Here are some of the main features:

ID cards

Passed by the French Senate yesterday, this new measure will extend the life of a “carte d’identité” from 10 to 15 years, making life that bit easier for the individual.

The reform should also remove backlogs at town halls and local authorities, saving money and man hours in the process.

Penalty points online

Checking how many points you’ve racked up on your driving license is never a pleasant experience, but at least now it should be a little less time-consuming, with the data being posted online for motorists to consult.

Digital restaurant tickets

The restaurant ticket – whereby companies over a certain size give their employees roughly eight euros a day to spend on food – is one of France’s most gratefully-received benefits.

However, keeping track of all those “cheques” can get messy, and Wednesday’s reform looks set to simplify everything.

Between now and the end of the year, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the paper system will be phased out and replaced by a rechargeable card and smartphone app, to make paying for lunch and shopping for food more efficient.

Business tax credits

It’s not just individuals and consumers who stand to benefit from Wednesday’s efficiency drive, businesses should find it easier to get valuable tax credits from now on.

The process to apply for a research and development tax refund (“credit d’impôt recherché”), for example, will be simplified, and restrictions on it lessened.

The threshold beyond which an auditor is called in, is also set to be reviewed by the government.

“In all, by January 1st 2014, some 1.3 million businesses will be benefiting from lighter paperwork and formalities,” an advisor to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told French TV TF1.

Business registration

The obligation on trading companies (“societies commerciales”) to register with French tax authorities will be removed.

Such firms can now simply register with their chamber of commerce, avoiding a previous duplication and cutting paperwork and resulting costs in half.

Digitizing administration

Several other administrative procedures for businesses are also set to be done online rather than with physical forms, including payment of VAT and registering state procurement contracts.

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What does it mean in France when you ‘declare on your honour’?

When you're navigating French bureaucracy, or more recently the Covid-related rules, you often come across the 'déclaration sur l'honneur' - but what does this actually mean?

What does it mean in France when you 'declare on your honour'?
A déclaration sur l'honneur has a legal standing in France. Photo: AFP

A déclaration sur l'honneur literally translates into English as a 'declaration on one's honour' but that phrase sounds archaic in English, bringing to mind men in curly wigs fighting duels over insults to their honour.   

A better translation of déclaration sur l'honneur is a 'sworn statement' or an 'affidavit' and these declarations have a legal standing in France, complete with sanctions for people who make false declarations.

Essentially this is a document that you sign stating that a certain thing is true – some official forms are déclarations sur l'honneur or attestations sur l'honneur and you can also write your own declaration in certain circumstances, in which case the document must contain your full name, address and date of birth, a statement saying that you declare a certain thing to be true and must also be signed with the date and place of signature added.

The French government has a template that you can use for a declaration HERE.

These documents are a standard part of the French legal and administrative landscape, but have become more commonplace during Covid where many everyday actions now require a déclaration sur l'honneur.

The attestation which was required to go out during lockdown (and is still required for trips out after curfew) is an example of a déclaration sur l'honneur – you are not required to provide proof that you are, for example, going to the supermarket since this would obviously be difficult to furnish, but by filling out the form and signing it (or clicking the box on the online version) you are making a sworn statement as to the purpose of your trip out.

The same applies to people entering France from a foreign country, they are required to swear that they do not have any Covid symptoms and the form states that Je soussigné déclare sur l'honneur n'avoir presenté, au cours de dèrniers 48 heures aucun des symptômes suivant –  I, the undersigned declare on my honour that in the last 48 hours I have not had any of the following symptoms.

But it's not just Covid-related forms that require this declaration, you will often be asked for one by official bodies including the Pôle emploi (unemployment office), tax authorities or social security. If you are getting married or Pacsé (a civil partnership) you will be required to declare that you live together and there are no family ties between the two partners.

The declaration can also be used if you lack official documentation, for example if you don't have house deeds, a rental contract, utility bills or other official means to prove your address you can ask your landlord to make a sworn declaration that you live in the address specified. 

So what happens if you are discovered to have lied on a sworn statement?

Since this is an official document, you can be prosecuted if you are discovered to have lied on a déclaration sur l'honneur or to have produced a false declaration. 

If you have used the false declaration in the context of tax or social security you would usually be prosecuted for tax or benefit fraud.

If you are found to have forged someone else's signature on a déclaration sur l'honneur you can be prosecuted for forgery, which carries a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison and a €45,000 fine.

The maximum penalty for using or drawing up a false declaration is 1 year in prison and a fine of €15,000.

If the false declaration is prejudicial to another person or the public treasury (except in cases of tax fraud), the maximum penalty is 3 years' imprisonment and a fine of €45 000.