France hits British ski teacher with €30k fine

A British ski instructor at the centre of a cross-channel row over free trade was slapped by a French court on Monday with a €30,000 fine for teaching in France without a licence. The teacher could land in prison if he doesn't pay up.

France hits British ski teacher with €30k fine
A British ski instructor, shown in centre, was handed a five-digit fine for teaching without a licence. Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

 A French court on Monday ordered a British ski instructor to pay a €30,000 euro ($41,000) fine for teaching without a licence, in a case that has sparked outrage in his native country.

The case against Simon Butler, who has been teaching clients how to ski in the French Alps for more than 30 years, goes to the heart of Europe's labour laws.

Despite having the highest-rated British ski instructor's licence, Butler has refused to obtain qualifications needed to teach in France, in the face of repeated convictions and fines.

The court in Bonneville said Butler could face up to 200 days in jail if he does not pay the fine.

Prosecutors had called for Butler, 51, to be sentenced to a year in prison, with eight months suspended, and fined 10,000 euros.

"Obviously I'm very disappointed with that result and we're going to appeal. We're going to do that right now," Butler said after the ruling. 

"As far as I'm concerned I'm not guilty of anything. I think my rights haven't been seen here," he said.

Butler says France's refusal to recognise British certificates violates EU laws on freedom of movement, in particular a 2005 directive on Europe-wide ecognition of qualifications.

Before the trial, Butler vowed to move his business — which employs 28 people and hosts about 100 guests a week from December to April in the resort of Megeve — if he is convicted.

The trial has sparked consternation in Britain, leading the French embassy in London to deny there was a "piste war" taking place in the French Alps.

London Mayor Boris Johnson called the dispute "a complete, naked, shameless and unrepentant breach — by the French — of the principles of the European Single Market."

Butler alleged he is being targeted in a protectionist campaign to drive away foreign instructors and have them replaced with French ones.

'Legal disgrace'

The court also ordered Butler to pay a symbolic one euro in damages to France's official ESF ski school and its local branch in Megeve.

"This is a white-collar hooligan who is doing whatever he wants in France. It is urgent that we put an end to his activities," said ESF director Jean-Marc Simon, who said he was "satisfied" with the court's ruling.

But Britain's anti-EU UKIP party, which backed Butler throughout the case, called the ruling a "legal disgrace".

"This is a blatant display of national discrimination by the French government and legal system who will stop at nothing to discourage or prevent non-French nationals from giving ski lessons on French slopes," UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall said in a statement.

"It really does show that discrimination is rampant in the EU. While the British government gold-plates EU legislation, other countries like France ignore it at will," he said.

Some 350 British ski monitors work in France, out of a total of about 17,000, according to information presented in court.

The court also sentenced five of Butler's employees to fines of up to 4,000 euros.

Butler, who runs two hotels in Megeve, and his team all have the level three or four certificates issued by the British Association of Snowsport Instructors required by Britain to teach skiing on slopes like those in Megeve.

France issues its own certificates from the ESF and does not automatically recognise the British equivalents.

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