When the going gets tough, France keeps going

Hardly has the Christmas turkey been digested than we’re straight back into what will surely be the most miserable year yet in France, with unemployment still rising, the economy going nowhere, competitivity a joke, and a bunch of idiots in charge of this out-of-control ship.

SacrifieWhere to start? The endangered species – the small business – has launched a heartening campaign Sacrifié mais pas résigné (sacrificed but not giving up) with the slogan “Too much tax kills business”. You can sign up to their (already 800,000 strong) petition at www.sauvonslaproximite.com

Whereas in the past it was the students and the down-trodden factory workers who would have taken up the fight, now it’s the business owner (le patron) who is out on the street, fighting for survival against the continuing rise in social charges and taxes. When the bonnets rouges were demonstrating in Brittany at the end of last year, it was comforting to see how the assorted stratum of society were federated under this one banner – farm workers, lorry drivers, business leaders, students, the unemployed, union representatives from all walks of life – expressing a general ras le bol (they are fed up).

And in the light of this public pressure, the unpopular carbon tax was indefinitely suspended in December. As The Times commented, Hollande’s government “has lurched from controversy to crisis, abandoning policies when the going gets tough. And having suspended the carbon tax … as always happens with revenue forgone, someone else will pay. In this case, it is the taxpayer who will have to find the €1 billion for improvements to France’s rail and road networks that the levy was intended to fund.”

Having already introduced €27 billion of new taxes (still not sufficient for France to meet EU budget reduction targets), there is very little scope for raising further tax.

Is it any wonder, as we’ve already commented in the past, that more and more workers are going “onto the black” to avoid paying further high tax and social charges? In 2013, the PACA region noticed massive increases in “black” workers in the hotel/restaurant trade, small grocery shops, builders, hairdressers, and beauty salons. The estimated evasion of social charges is the equivalent of 3305 full-time jobs paid over one year. URSSAF (the government body that collects social charges) estimates that 70% of its work is rounding up non-declared (black) workers. Hence the recruitment in 2013 of an additional 130 inspectors in the PACA region and a dozen “super investigators” specialising in transnational cases where French businesses have taken on cheaper foreign labour (notably from former Eastern European countries), but have not paid the going rate of French social charges on these workers.

In its last issue of 2013, The Economist ran an article entitled Bleak Chic, asking “How can the French, who invented joie de vivre, the three-tier cheese trolley and Dior’s jaunty New Look, be so resolutely miserable?” Polls suggest that the French are more pessimistic about their future than Albanians or Iraqis. A global Barometer of Hope and Happiness puts the French second to bottom of a 54-country world ranking. Looking at the tragic-comedy that is Mr Hollande with his approval rating of 15% – “the worst since records began” – is this any surprise?