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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes about life as France enters April under coronavirus lockdown?

Here’s our regular look ahead at what to expect from the coming month, which France enters under slightly peculiar conditions.

What changes about life as France enters April under coronavirus lockdown?
France's national lockdown is due to end on April 15th. But will it be prolonged? Photo: AFP

Lockdown extended?

This is perhaps the most pressing question for many people. France entered a national lockdown on March 17th and will stay so for at least another two weeks with the current end date standing at April 15th.

However, experts have predicted that the period will be extended. The scientific council handpicked to advise the government has recommended six weeks of lockdown.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: When will the coronavirus epidemic peak in France?

Schools to stay closed

About 12 million pupils currently being homeschooled will remain in their homes all through April as French schools are due to keep shut until at least May 4th.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told Europe 1 that reopening the school gates was a “possibility that depends on the development of the epidemic.” 

“It might be later,” the minister said. “The peak of the epidemic would need to be behind us.”

Gas prices drop

In good news, starting April 1st, gas prices fall 4.4 percent in total in France. The decrease will be 1.1 percent for households using gas for cooking, 4.6 percent for those using gas for heating and 2.5 percent for households that tick both boxes. 

Gas has getting cheaper in France for over a year now, with a total price fall of 12 percent  over the course of 2019. April’s drop is slightly smaller than the one in March of 4.8 percent.

Fewer trains than normal are running during lockdown. Photo: AFP

Train tickets reimbursed

National rail operator SNCF will reimburse all train tickets booked for the whole month of April.

Customers who purchased an annual subscription paid in monthly instalments will not be charged for April, SNCF has said. The same goes for the regional TER trains, which thousands of people in France take every day. All April payments have been suspended by the regional authorities that handle these subscriptions – Ile-de-France's transilien trains included.

SNCF customers who paid their annual subscriptions in one single instalment will also get the month April cancelled out from their fee, reported French daily Le Parisien, but the details of this reimbursement will be published after the lockdown.

Find out the latest on the coronavirus situation in France here

A mail box is being disinfected by cleaners as France is on lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: AFP

Reduced mail services

La Poste has already reduced its deliveries to three days a week (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays). Now, deliveries could be further reduced as La Poste has said it will concentrate on social services in the period from April 6th-10th.

More than 1.5 million people depend on local post offices to get their monthly benefits. From April 4th, they will be able to withdraw their benefits from automatic distributors in 1,850 mail offices in France.

The full list of offices that will keep open this period will be made available here.

Paris Orly airport closes

As the number of passengers plunged following the coronavirus crisis, Paris Orly airport on will shut down its services until further notice on April 1st.

Orly is France's largest airport for domestic flights, running about 600 flights a day from over 100 airlines. The four companies still operating will move to Paris' other and France's largest airport, Charles de Gaulle, in the north of the capital. 

Events cancelled

Concerts, shows and other major events planned for April have been cancelled or postponed. 

As long as the lockdown lasts, all big events are off. The Paris Opera has cancelled all its shows for the entire month of April. Sports events have been cancelled too, and not just for April. Of major sports events, Tour de France is currently one of the only being maintained for July – although it could go ahead without a crowd.

Luckily, there are ways to experience culture while confined in your home, as concerts, ballets and plays are being made available online. If you haven't yet, you could also test the Skype apéro that is becoming very popular in France.

READ ALSO: How to have a virtual night out during lockdown

Chocolate maker Jean-François Pre made easter eggs shaped like the coronavirus. Photo: AFP

Easter

April is the month of Easter, a holiday where the French go big on chocolate.

While there won't be any traditional Easter breaks this year, you can still go get your chocolate from your local supermarket. Just remember to bring your lockdown form (we're pretty sure Easter chocolate can be considered as 'essential shopping' right now).

Financial help for workers

To prevent companies laying off staff en masse, the French government opened for employers to have their workers declare chômage partiel (temporary unemployment) so that the state will top off their salaries instead of the business during the lockdown (more on the rules here).

Declarations can, since March 30th, be made on the government’s website (link here).

Self-employed and small business owners will also get financial help from the French state (more on that here), and their declaration should be made available on the government’s website on April 1st.

 

Those who still have to go to work during lockdown (not people who can work from home) could see their financial compensation (prime) double in April, as the government on Wednesday April 1st will increase the maximum limit from €1,000 to €2,000.

This is an exceptional measure that could be extended until August 31st, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on BFMTV on Tuesday morning.

Unemployment reform postponed

A controversial reform that would change the rules on unemployment benefits for people whose contracts ended after April 1st has been delayed to September 1st.

Extended winter truce

The government also decided to extend the traditional winter truce (trêve hivernal), which prevents landlords from evicting tenants during coldest months, by two months after the normal end date on March 31st.

Anyone unable to meet rent in this period will therefore not face the fear of being evicted before May 31st.

Tax declaration

April is also the month do declare taxes for the year before. From April 8th, you should be able to declare your taxes for 2019 online (here).

The government has vowed to render tax declarations paperless and this year is the first year even first-timers are told to file their declarations online. If you don't have a numéro fiscal, you can get one through the official website of impots.gouv.fr.

READ ALSO: The essential information about French tax declarations

People without internet access may however make their declarations on paper and send them in by post, by May 14th.

Deadlines for declaring taxes online vary between départements. Taxpayers in départements 1-19 have until May 19th, départements 20-49 have until May 26th and départements 50-976 have until June 2nd.

French media has reported that the government will likely extend the tax declaration deadlines due to the logistical difficulties caused by the coronavirus lockdown. An official announcement should be made this week, the AFP reported.

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POLITICS

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What’s in France’s 2023 budget?

France's finance minister has unveiled the government's financial plans for the next year, and says that his overall aim is to 'protect' households in France from inflation and rises in the cost of living - here's what he announced.

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What's in France's 2023 budget?

The 2023 Budget was formally presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, before economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced the main details to the press. 

The budget must now be debated in parliament, and more details on certain packages will be revealed in the coming days, but here is the overview;

Inflation – two of the biggest measures to protect households from the rising cost of living had already been announced – gas and electricity prices will remain capped in 2023, albeit at the higher rate of 15 percent, while low-income households will get a €100-200 grant. The energy price cap is expected to cost the government €45 billion in 2023.

EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Property renovations – the MaPrimeRenov scheme, which gives grants to householders for works that make their homes more energy-efficient, will be extended again into 2023, with a budget of €2.5 billion to distribute.

Income tax – the income tax scale will be indexed to inflation in 2023, so that workers who get a pay increase to cope with the rising cost of living don’t find themselves paying more income tax. “Disposable income after tax will remain the same for all households even if their salary increases,” reads the 2023 Budget.

Pay rises –  pay will increase for teachers, judges and other civil servants as inflation is forecast to reach 4.3 percent next year after 5.4 percent in 2022. Around €140 million is assigned to increase the salaries of non-teaching staff in schools. 

New jobs – nearly 11,000 more public employees will be hired, in a stark reversal of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promise to slash 120,000 public-sector jobs – 2,000 of these jobs will be in teaching. 

Small business help – firms with fewer than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million will also benefit from the 15 percent price cap on energy bills in 2023. The finance ministry will put in place a simplified process for small businesses to claim this aid. In total €3 billion is available to help small businesses that are suffering because of rising costs. 

Refugees – In the context of the war in Ukraine, the government plans to finance 5,900 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers in various reception and emergency accommodation centres. The budget provides for a 6 percent increase in the “immigration, asylum and integration” budget.

Cigarettes – prime minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced that the price of cigarettes will rise “in line with inflation”.

Ministries – Le Maire also announced the budget allocation for the various ministries. The Labour ministry is the big winner with an increase of 42.8 percent compared to last year, coupled with the goal to reach full employment by 2027. Education gets an increase of €60.2 billion (or 6.5 percent more than in 2022), much of which will go on increasing teachers’ salaries, while the justice and environment ministries will also see increased budgets.

Conversely, there was a fall in spending for the finance ministry itself.

Borrowing –  the government will borrow a record €270 billion next year in order to finance the budget. “This is not a restrictive budget, nor an easy one – it’s a responsible and protective budget at a time of great uncertainties,” said Le Maire. 

The government is tabling on growth of one percent, a forecast Le Maire defended as “credible and pro-active” despite an estimate of just 0.5 percent GDP growth by the Bank of France, and 0.6 percent from economists at the OECD.

The public deficit is expected to reach five percent of GDP, as the EU has suspended the rules limiting deficit spending to three percent of GDP because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Parliament

The budget plans now need to be debated in parliament where they are likely to face fierce opposition. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party and its allies lost their majority in elections earlier this year.

Macron also plans to push ahead with a pension reform that would gradually start pushing up the official retirement age from 62 currently, setting up a standoff with unions and left-wing opposition parties.

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