|This page is one
of the annex pages of www.understandfrance.org, the foremost
site on Franco-American intercultural differences. It contains
documents, facts and figures illustrating the content of some
of its pages.
This page contains
Facts and Figures about France and the French. Some are significant,
other less so....
| French Economy
| The French are often worried about the
situation of their country and periodically, studies and articles
list the strong and the weak points of the French economy and
society. Here are some of the most recent :
Strengths and weaknesses of France
In October 2005, the
Center-Left weekly " Nouvel Observateur " tried
to make a list of what's right and wrong in France. This is only
an article : it is partial and some of the statements are well
known but some others might be surprising to foreign readers.
Here it is :
What's wrong :
1. We live above our
means (budget deficit of the state : 3%)
2. Our expenses for health are skyrocketing (11% of GNP)
3. We work less than our neighbours (see figures)
4. Our pension system is vulnerable
5. We lost 1,6 million manufacturing jobs
6. Investment is growing too slowly (2% a year vs 3 or 4% in
other European countries)
7. Our entrepreneurs are depressed
8. Our large corporations belong to foreign pension funds (44%
of the capital of the CAC40 Index corporations)
9. People stay unemployed longer (see figures)
10. Young people have a harder time finding a job
11. The overhead on our salaries is huge (see anatomy
of a paycheck)
12. Our labor force is expensive (see figures)
13. We have a large and growing number of civil servants (see
14. 20% of our children leave school without any diploma
15. Our universities are poor (see figures)
16. Our wines do not sell as well as they used to
17. Our economic attractiveness is decreasing (from second to
fourth destination for foreign investment)
18. Our balance of trade with China is in deficit
19. (My personal comments) I would add
- We do not do well in integrating
the children of foreign migrants in the French society (see more)
- Not enough R & D (see figures)
- In France, it is very difficult
to change anything in a consensual way
- (Many) more to come.
In April 2007, the magazine
"Capital" published a special issue on "the
state of France" (besfore the presidential election).
It identifies the following :
Weak points :
- for the past 15 years, the economic
growth has been slower than the rest of Europe
- the ranking for competitivity
is mediocre (global market share 4,8% vs. 6,3% in 1996)
- due to heavy constraints, small
and middle businesses develop slower
- the debt of the State is enormous
(65% of the GNP, 18,000 Euros per inhabitant)
- the working time is too low
(35-hour week + vacation + early retirement) (see figures)
- unemployement is consistently
higher than in the rest of Europe (more than 8% for the past
- the retirement system is vulnerable
- the results for education are
mediocre, comsidering the money spent
- not enough money for scientific
But there are strong
most dynamic demography in Europe (the highest birthrate, with
- excellent infrastructures :
transport (fast train TGV), electricity (cheapest in Europe),
- the best health system in Europe
(and in the world according to WHO) : read
- a very developped social system
(poverty, unemployment, handicap,...)
- large internation corporation world leaders in their field
- a very strong agriculture and
- the first touristic destination
in the world
- the first industry of luxury
goods in the world (see figures)
- an efficient environmental policy
- innovation : many startups and digital companies
The French State Agency in charge of promoting foreign investment in France has published several little leaflets ""Key info in Ten Points" (available on its site) to answer major questions on the French economy and the worst aspects of its image abroad, some of them surprising :
- "Why invest in France ?" Ex. : Did you know that France is ranked 6th in the world for hourly labour cost, ahead of Germany (7th) and UK (13th) (OECD 2014)
- "France is lagging behind on R&D and innovation" : France ranked second in Europe and sixth in the world for the number of international patents filed (WIPO 2013)
- "A haven for university students ?" With more than 289,000 foreign students in higher education, France is the 3rd leading host country after the USA and UK (Campus 2014)
||Recent examples of sectarianism and lack of
fair-play in French political life :
- When French Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde was appointed Director General of IMF (June 29, 2011) she gave a brief farewell address to the National Assembly. The deputies on the Right gave her a standing ovation, while the deputies on the Left remained seated.
- The Constitution of France does not allow the President to speak in the Parliament (except in very limited cases) : traditionally, he invites all the members of the Parliament to a New Year party and gives a speech to wish them (and the country) a good year. Traditionally too, the leaders of the opposition (Socialist and Communist) boycott it and refuse to come.... (January 2011)
- in December 2009, in the final vote of a law updating the constituencies of deputies, a Senator of the majority who had the power for his whole group pushes the wrong button ; the Socialist chairwoman proclaims the law rejected (in this debate, I heard a Communist senator declare "we must not create seats for the French citizens living abroad : they vote for the Right Wing")
- in May 2007, when the results
of the Presidential Election are announced, the loser (Socialist
Segolene Royal) declares "we'll have other victories"
(not a word for the winner Sarkozy)
- in June 2007, although he won
54/46, Sarkozy appoints to his government several Socialist leaders
: they are excluded by their party
- in June 2008, Sarkozy proposes
significant amendments to the Constitution, giving more power
to the Parliament and less to the President and being for most
of them former demands of the Opposition ; the Socialists (except
one) vote against it
- in October 2008, the Left-wing
opposition abstains in the vote to rescue the failing banking
system, when all governments in the world voted similar measures
- More to come...
Back to Politics
The 2012 Presidential campaign
Some surprising (for Americans) promises or statements by the 10 candidates during the 2012 Presidential campaign :
- a 100%-tax on all income above 360,000 Euros/year (Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate for the Left Front) or a 83+% on all income above 1 million Euro/year (Fraçois Hollande, Socialist Party)
- "our only enemy is the financial sector" (François Hollande, Socialist Party)
- the creation of a "droit de l'eau" (right to water) by subsidizing water for the poorest (a group supporting the candidate for the Greens)
- a law will forbid any dismissal or lay-off for any reason (Nathalie Arthaud, Trotskyist)
- a 21.5% raise of the minimum wage to 1,700 Euros/month (and same increase to all the associated state-monitored monthly allocations) (Jean-Luc Melenchon, Left Front)
- abandoning the Euro and going back to the Franc (Marine le Pen, National Front and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan independent)
- immediate change from the 35-hour week to the 32-hour week (Philippe Poutou, New Anticapitalist Party)
- and many others….
There were 10 candidates (see their mottos, roughly translated) and their respective scores on the first run of the elections were :
- Nicolas Sarkozy (Center Right, "A strong France") :27,2 %,(the lower part of the bracket)
- François Hollande (Socialist Party,"Change is now") : 28,6%, (close to estimates)
- Marine Le Pen (Extreme Right, "Yes, France") :17,9 %, (higher than expected)
- Jean-Luc Melenchon (a coalition with the Communist Party, "Come to power") : 11,1%, (lower than expected)
- François Bayrou (Center, "France with solidarity") :9,1 %, (a very disapointing result)
- Eva Joly (Greens, "The real change") : 2,3%, (very lower but the Green feared worse)
- Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Right, "A free France") :1,8 %,
- Nathalie Artaud (Trotskyist, "A Communist candidate") :0,6 %,
- Philippe Poutou (Trotskyist, "Let the capitalists pay for their own crisis") : 1,9%,
- Jacques Cheminade (politically unidentified, "a world without the City and Wall Street") :0,3 %.
- The % of non-voters was 20,5%
For the second run on May 6, the resulats were : François Hollande 51,7 %, Nicolas Sarkozy 48,3 % with 19 % non-voters (the % of voters is higher than in many other countries : it shows that the French love politics!)
A few examples of "avantages acquis" (social benefits)
- Employees of the National Railways company (SNCF) and their relatives (1.1 million persons!) travel for free (total cost for the taxpayer estimated at $140 m.)
- Employees of Air France (now a private company) and their family travel at a (very) reduced cost : 2.3 million trips in 2013 for a total cost of $130 m.
- Employees of the National Electricity company (EDF) pay only 10% of the price of electricity and 1% of the revenues is allocated to the "Comite d'entreprise".
- More to come....
The case of the project of law to reform labor laws (project "El Khomri") at the begining of 2016 : some of the projected changes which arouse the strongest opposition, street demonstrations, strikes, etc :
- The most controversial : putting a ceiling (15 months salary) to the compensation that a judge can allow to an employee who takes his employer to court after beind laid off (today, there is no limit) (finally, this provision was dropped)
- A matter of principle : a local labor negotiation in a firm, between the management and the unions, can modify certain aspects (working time, among many others) which have been negotiated at the national level of the economic sector the firm belongs (today, the national agreement must prevail)
- More to come
A few examples of "niches fiscales" (tax breaks and deductions)
Most extraordinary (for Americans) declarations / decisions by the new President François Hollande and his supporters after the elections :
- "I shall redirect Europe" (FH, May 6) and "I shall re-enchant the French dream"
- The first day of the new government, a decree will abolish the principle of evaluating teachers and professors (established by N.Sarkozy" (May 9)
- One of the funniest names of the Ministries in the new Cabinet (May 15) is "Ministère du Redressement Productif", which could translate "Ministry of the Productive Revival" (or "Productive Recovery"), held by dashing Arnaud Montebourg.
- More to come....
Back to Politics
Taxes on high salaries
- For executives, with the same salary
(457,000 Euros), the % of taxes and contributions on salary is
43,7% in the USA vs. 66,6% in France
- The figure in Europe varies
between 45,1% in UK and 70,8% in Belgium (Source : Rapport Lavenir
for the French Parliament, April 2002)
- In 2012, President Hollande decided a new 75%-tax on all income above $1.4 m.
- Back to the anatomy
of a paycheck
Facts and figures about working in France
- Absenteism : are French civil servants in poor health? The number of days of absence due to sick leaves (including maternity leaves), all paid with full salary, is very high among civil servants. About twice more than in the private sector, due to a poor management, particularly in the management of citries and regions. The official figures show an average of 26 days a year for city civil servants, the record being held by the city of Montpellier with 39 days a year. Maternity leaves represent around one third of this number. Do not forget to add the 5 weeks of paid vacations, which makes their fully paid work-year a nine-month year... (Source : IFRAP 2014).
- More to come .....
| in 1000 Euros
| Total cost for employer (1)
| Employer's contribution (2)
| Employee's income (3)=(1)-(2)
| Employee's contribution (4)
| Income tax (5)
| Total taxes (6)=(4)+(5)
| Net income (7)=(3)-(6)
| Apparent withdrawal (8)=(6)/(3)
Real withdrawal (9)=((6)+
| The French society...
||The French "modèle social" : a few examples
main forms of work contracts in France :
created in January 2006 and abandoned almost immediately after
huge demonstrations against it.
|| contrat à
|| contrat à
|| contrat première
|| the most frequent
|| for people
under 26 : the reason for the 2005
|| 18 months maximum
|| 6 months maximum
| Trial period
|| 1 to 3 months (6 months max) (renewable once)
|| 2 years (the only difference with CDI)
|| strictly regulated (must
be justified by employer) except during the trial period
|| contractual ; can be renewed
only once ; indemnity 5% at maturity
|| same as CDI
|| 1 to 3 months
|| same as CDI
| Indemnity in case of termination
|| legal (1/10
month per year of length of service + conventional
|| same as CDI
|| same as CDI
Back to "working
Monthly Familiy Allowance "Allocations familiales" in France (as of January 1, 2001) :
- 2 children 125,78 Euros (approx. $ 166)
- 3 children : 286,94 Euros ($ 379)
- 4 chilren : 448,10 Euros ($ 591)
- for each additional child : 161,17 Euros ($ 213)
- supplement for children above age 14 : 62,90 Euros ($ 83)
Detail of allocations(Source : CNAF in Le Figaro Jan.26, 2011)
- Allocation for families (2 children and more) and various other allocations (handicapped children, help for school supplies, etc…) : Euros 19,9 billion for 5,6 million beneficiaries
- Housing allocation (for people below a certain income or in special situations like mothers raising children alone) : Euros 15,5 billion for 6 million
- Young children (nannies, service social workers to help people raising young children, …) : Euro 14,7 billion for 6,7 million
- RSA (formerly RMI) for people who are not eligible for job-seekers help (young people who never had a job, people who are not eligible any longer to job-seekers help) : Euros 8,8 billion for 1,8 million
- Other allocations (to maintain old people in their home, paternity leave, etc…) : Euros 7,9 billion (number of beneficiaries not available)
- Allocation for handicapped adults : Euros 5,9 for 0,8 million
The level of fraud is officially estimated at Euros 2 billion (on a total of 72).
Back to Social Security in France
- Years spent in retirement : compared figures (Source : Figaro Oct.14, 2014)
- France : 18.9 years
- Italy : 17.7
- Belgium : 17.5
- Netherlands : 17.2
- Spain : 16.1
- Germany : 15.1
- UK : 14
- Sweden : 13.9
- USA : 10.4 years
- Japan : 9.7
Back to retiring in France
A few examples of abusive strikes
- in May 2006 : the "Syndicat
des Travailleurs Corses" and Syndicat Force Ouvrière
(FO) blocked the two gasoline depots of Corsica for 5
weeks because the delivery people of the newspaper Nice-Matin
could not reach an agreement on salaries with their company.
No way to buy gas on the island...
- in 2003, Marseille was
competing with Valencia for the organization of the America Cup
(sailing) : during the visit of the Committee in charge of designating
the best site, there was a huge strike of garbage collectors
with piles of trash and rats running in the streets : unions
refused to stop the strike. Marseille is by far the dirtiest city
in France, with garbage bags everywhere on the streets, waste
papers flying around, etc. It is famous for the constant strikes
of the employees of the city's garbage collection service. These
employees enjoy a unique privilege in their job contract, the
" fini-parti " (literally : " done-gone ")
: as soon as their job is finished, they can go back home (or
to their more lucrative undeclared job). I saw a subject on national
TV with a hidden camera showing a garbage truck racing through
the streets, the team throwing garbage in it (half of it ending
on the pavement) and finishing their shift in two hours (instead
of six). When you talk about that to a "Marseillais",
he/she sighs and says " That's the way it is ....".
- in March 2005, when the Commission
of Evaluation of the International Olympic Committee visited
the 5 candidate cities, a major public transport strike was planned
in Paris : one organization (CFDT) proposed to postpone
it and all the others refused! There was a strike and the city was a mess. The (Socialist) Mayor of Paris declared : "This strike will not jeopardize the French candidacy : it will show that we are a real democracy".
Isn't that cynical ? Of course, Paris was not selected ....
- More to come
- The Health policy and the Family policy are unquestioned in France and they are described on the specific page of this site
- Social housing represents 20% to 25% of the number of dwelling units. According to a law (loi SRU, 2000), any city above 3,500 inhabitants must have 20% of public housing or pay a fine (which is high) for each missing unit.
- More to come...
Some less so....
- The price of many products and services depends on the income. For example, in 21012, 650,000 families are entitled to the "tarif social" and pay their electricity 30% to 40% less than the general price. There is a "tarif social" in many (if not most) public services : school cafeterias, public transport, swimming pools, etc....
- AME (Aide medicale d'Etat i.e. medical State help) is a totally free health plan, paid by the State : all illegal migrants, without any paper, are eligible to this plan which covers all medical expenses. France is the only country in the world with such a help to migrants (since 2000).
- Do you know what "droit de retrait" means ? Litteraly "right of withdrawal", it means that civil servants who work for a public service (like trains, schools, etc...) have the right to stop working if they consider that their safety or their health is at stake. It is not a strike since they continue to be paid. This why very time something dramatic happens like a crazy person wounding a train inspector or a school teacher, their colleagues stop working all over the country for hours or days...
- Paid sick leaves for writers, hum.... A very successful novelist, Alexandre Jardin, reports that, one day as he was talking to an employee of the organization which runs the pension plan and the health program of writers (AGESSA), he was told "you known that you are entitled to (paid) sick leaves ?". Can lack of inspiration be considered an illness? Is the writer supposed to stop writing when sick ? (Le Figaro 27/1/2009)
- more to come....
(huge) strikes against the CPE in 2006 : a (mini) - case study
- The problem :
- unemployment is high in France
(> 9%) and very high for young people (> 20% for people
- all over Europe, the unemployment
rate has been reduced by more flexibility : if employers could
reduce their staff more easily they would be less reluctant to
hire new people
- The project :
- The government has decided to
establish by law a new job contract (C.P.E. = contrat première
embauche) which would make it possible for employers to end a
very long trial period (two years : today it never exceeds 6
months) without having to justify it (currently, it is a legal
- This new contract would have
no impact on existing contracts but it is expected that new positions
would be created under these contracts.
- The method :
- The new Prime Minister wanted
to go very fast though a specific law which was submitted to
the Parliament under a Constitutional procedure (Article 49-3)
which is a " yes " or " no " vote with no
discussion or amendments possible.
- There was no prior discussion
whatsoever with employers associations or labor unions, political
- The result :
- A huge majority of young people,
mostly students, stood against the law and demanded its withdrawal.
In a few weeks, most French universities were blocked, millions
of people demonstrated in the streets, the students were being
joined by high school students and later labor unions.
- On March 28, there was a big
strike and almost 3 million people demonstrated in the streets
on the theme " Say no to instability ".
- Nevertheless, the Government
declared the law would not be withdrawn and Villepin thought
he would be politically dead if he backed-up : the situation
was totally blocked. Finally the government gave up after almost
three months of demonstrations and the CPE was abandonned.
- About this case study : what
is wrong with France ?
- A political class which is absolutely
autistic : D.de Villepin being a perfect example of it.
- A preference for authority
(i.e. laws) rather than discussion (consensus between social
- " Intermediary powers
" (like unions) are too weak and their only chance to survive
- Only the King can put
an end to a blockade : when the King is weakened (Chirac), no
solution is possible
- No economic culture and no understanding of the actual situation
of companies by students and unions
- A preference for ideas rather
- General self-centeredness
: in France nobody is
interested by the fact that a given policy did work in another
country and could be used to solve the same problem in France.
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Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French.
Order her books:
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
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