Maybe France isn’t quite doomed after all

While many who saw images of an HR director fleeing staff were left thinking "same old France, nothing changes", the message from business leaders this week is actually one of hope. "The times are changing" they say.

Maybe France isn't quite doomed after all
Photo: FDComite/Flickr
We all know about the record high unemployment, the public debt, the economy that’s ground to halt.
There are the farmers whose livelihoods are crumbling around them and an increase in poverty and inequality that is threatening France's social cohesion.
We're told that France has been the sick man of Europe for as long as we can remember and, speaking of sick leave, those two execs who had their best suits ripped off their backs have just been given a week off to recover from the trauma.
The country has been in a pretty bad way for a while, with magazines such as Newsweek (“The Fall of France”) and the Economist (“France is a ticking time bomb at the heart of Europe”) lining up to predict the downfall of the country at one stage or another in recent years.
But there was a different message coming out of the country this week from both American and French business leaders, that makes us think — perhaps things are not as bad as they are made out to be.
On Thursday boss of American tech giant Cisco Systems John Chambers took everyone by surprise when he said France was the next Silicon Valley.
He didn’t stop there.
“France is the future,” he said and then came the words that must have knocked the wind out Britain’s right-wing, French bashing press.
“Germany and the United Kingdom, all these countries are following in France’s footsteps.” In other words France is the place to be right now.
Chambers was talking about the digital revolution rather than, for example, labour relations which clearly could do with some improvement.
His words were laughed off by many and met with incredulity by others, including many in France.
Surely he’s been set up to wax lyrical about France in exchange for a cut in payroll charges.
But on Friday the heads of France’s newest and brightest companies backed up what he said and not only that but echoed his positive view of France’s Socialist government.
“The French government is doing everything they can to help entrepreneurship,” Frédéric Mazzella, founder of ride-sharing company BlaBlaCar, told the Anglo American Press Association in Paris.
“They are changing laws and the environment as fast as is humanly possible. They are doing super work,” said Mazzella, whose company was recently valued at €1.6 billion and is considered the toast of the French start-up scene.T
“They realise the importance of being positive about the things they can be positive about.”
“We want to make people understand that things are changing in France. We want people to talk positively abroad about France,” Mazzella added.
“There's a change in spirit here.”
Mazzella is not the only member of the new wave of French business leaders preaching this line.
“Clearly, something is happening in France,” Jérôme Lecat, head of Franco-American start up Scality told Europe1 radio.
“We feel there is a new curiosity. Investors are coming to France at least, to see what is happening.
“One of them said to me recently, your teams are working like in Silicon Valley.” 
Lecat and Mazella say that all talk of companies in France being held back by the inflexible labour market and strict employment laws are exaggerated and no longer accurate. 
Both say the 2008 reform that allowed “rupture conventional” or amicable partings between staff and companies was a major step forward, as was a 2013 law that allowed companies suffering from economic difficulties to temporarily reduce working hours and salaries.
“I no longer have any problem with the French labour laws,” said Lecat. 
Gui Mamou-Mani, president of Syntec, which represents those in the France's digital industry added “France really is a Silicon Valley. And I am happy that this point of view is finally being recognised by foreign investors.”
And there's some facts to back up their analysis.
Figures show Paris and the suburbs are home to 12,000 start-ups, which makes it top of Europe's capital cities. Sentier, an area of the second arrondissement where many of the start ups are growing in specialised incubators, has been nicknamed “Silicon Sentier”.
Granted, France has a lot to do. Those in charge of attracting foreign investment recognise that France's ever changing tax laws and red tape are still a turn off.
Oh and there's record high unemployment and the public debt and the farmers.
But for once at least the message is positive.
Maybe France really is the place to be. 

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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 


The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?