“I have been open seven days a week for three and a half years. I have created jobs and wealth. I don’t know why they are preventing me from doing it.”
This was the response from an aggrieved baker in the south west of France, after French authorities forced him to close one day a week, as the law states he must.
The fact Stéphane Cazenave won the 2014 prize for the best baguette in France did not mean anything to the local authorities. For them, rules are rules or more to the point, a boulangerie in France can open seven days a week, but it must stop selling bread for a 24-hour period.
The ruling against Cazenave, which he says will see him lose €250,000 a year and force him to lay-off some of his 22 staff, has caused a storm in France, with politicians wading into the row about French regulations stifling businesses.
(Stephane Cazenave the baker who bakes too much bread. Photo: France3)
Summing up the frustration of those backing the baker former PM François Fillon said: “The fact that working in our country can be considered an offence and that the passion of a craftsman can be restricted, should alert us to the absurdity of our system.”
But there are others who back the bureaucrats, including Eric Scherrer from the retail trade union CLIC-P, who tells The Local that French laws must be respected and that they are not complicated.
“Firstly if laws are not respected then they are no longer laws. It’s not just in France that it works like that,” Scherrer says. “Do I have the right to go out and drive at 300km per hour because I don’t want to respect the law? Where do we stop?
“There is a rule in place that says bakers and other professions in the food industry must close for at least one day a week. It’s because it’s an artisanal trade where people can work a lot, much more than the legal limits,” he adds.
“These people need to have a rest day each week. We can’t just allow them to work non-stop. It’s absolutely necessary that both bosses and employees have a day of rest.”
The union chief stresses that the regulations were made up by professionals and tradesmen, not bureaucrats in an office in Paris.
“We understand these rules and we have to remember they were laid down by professionals through collective agreements.
“It’s not the state that decided these rules in the first place, it just enforces them. They can work how they want for six days a week but they must be closed for one day.
Scherrer says by having to close for a day other businesses in the area, in this case rival boulangeries, can survive.
“There’s also the fact that it avoids unfair competition. If we allow shops to open all week then the weakest will simply go out of business. The competition will kill them off.
“In the US and the UK we see big companies suing others for unfair competition, so it’s not just in France that this principle is important,” he says.
Scherrer also dismisses the accusation frequently made abroad, that France is full of complicated regulations that are killing businesses.
“Sometimes people give the impression the UK has no rules around business and commerce, but there are rules,” he said.
“It’s not just because the UK doesn’t understand the rules in France that it means they are bad.
“It’s false to say there are only complicated rules in France. It’s just a lack of understanding. And the same goes for French views of British laws that we don’t understand.”