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'France must sell itself to US firms or lose out'

Ben McPartland · 16 Oct 2013, 10:08

Published: 16 Oct 2013 10:08 GMT+02:00

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The attractiveness of France to US firms and their American workers is at its lowest in 15 years.

That's according to Marc-André Kamel, whose consultancy firm Bain & Company along with the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris has just published the results of a survey of US executives and employees based in France.

The stand-out results revealed that only 13 percent of US companies having invested in France saw it as attractive place to do business and of the employees surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce only nine percent would strongly recommend France to their fellow Americans as a country to come and work. 

Here Kamel tells The Local why American business leaders and expat employees have such a negative sentiment towards France and what the French government must do to avoid losing investment from across the Atlantic, including promoting the positive aspects of France that have proved very attractive to those from the US.

Marc-André Kamel:  "The reasons why France is not seen as an attractive place to invest are pretty well established. The first surrounds the lack of clarity when it comes to economic and fiscal policy in France. Americans say they don’t understand the policies here.

They see news coming out of France about a 75 percent tax or rises in company taxes but it's never clear what's actually happening. That lack of clarity puts people off investing in France.

“The second problem is the complexity of the labour laws here. American companies talk about the complicated tax portfolios and the lack of flexibility of the labour market.

They're also confused that on the one hand there seem to be subsidies available to them, but on the other hand the government is raising taxes.  This all removes the predictability that US investors look for.

Americans working in France

"When we asked American employees in France whether they would recommend the country as a place to come and work, there were several factors which explain why only nine percent would strongly recommend France.

“The main one is the personal tax levels. Americans here identify this as the number one problem of working in France.

The second reason is the administration and bureaucracy. It can take months to get a visa for a spouse and there are many horror stories about the visa process.

It’s obviously difficult to get visas for the US too, but you would have expected the administration issue would have been resolved by now for some of the big US companies, who have been long established in France.

“There’s also the social climate. When Americans think about whether France is an attractive place to live, they think about the social unrest and the strikes, and all this ends up being a deterrent.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 fights between France and the US

And the positives

There are two aspects of working in France that really impress Americans. The first one is the quality of the healthcare system here in France.

Americans who leave France after a few years really end up missing the healthcare here. Americans are fascinated by the French healthcare system. The other big factor surrounds children, the education system, and childcare. That's also recognized as a real strong point for France.

France needs to deal with a number of issues

"When we step back from all the statistics, we can see that sentiment towards France is the lowest it has been for 15 years. Even in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, France was still considered an attractive place to be. But now the attractiveness has dropped.

"We are recommending to the French government that it needs to better communicate the positive aspects of the French system. It really needs to sell those.

One thing many American companies note is the high quality of labour in France and the quality of the infrastructure. These are strong points that France needs to underline to US firms. The government also needs to communicate more about France and its strengths at a global level.

Story continues below…

“The government also needs to work on the weaknesses. We need to fix the red tape issue. It shouldn’t be difficult. It has to simplify things between the people and the government, whether it’s paying taxes, etc... This must be their number one priority.

"It also needs to create more predictability for foreign investment and stop saying one thing one day, and another the next, and stop changing the laws every year. It needs to provide more stability.

“The government also needs to communicate more about France and its strengths at a global level.

And if the government fails to change anything?

“That’s our real fear. I don’t think it has really materialised as yet, but if these issues aren't addressed, investment will go elsewhere.

We've already seen other countries in Europe trying to capture this investment. Spain has lowered the cost of labour to try to be more attractive. If nothing is done in France then the worsening sentiment towards the country will have a real impact on investment.”

Are you an American working in France? How do you feel about working here? Let us know in the comments section below and we will publish a selection of your views.

Don't miss a story about France - Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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