Only in France....



Too many laws, many unenforceable...


Examples of shameful behavior

  • The Hardness Law : an example of government ignorance. The Left Wing government elected in 2012 is very reluctant to change the French retirement system (which all European countries did in the last decade) and push forward the mandatory retirement age. The previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy, with heavy strikes and demonstrations, had pushed it from age 60 to 62-63 (in Germany, it is currently 67, but lowering it is under consideration). The Hardness Law creates a system of points associated with the hardness of the job, such as someone who did a hard job could retire earlier : at the end of each year, the number of hardness points obtained will bring a reduction of the retirement age and this is applicable to any company, from your next door garage to Dow Jones'. Isn't that smart? But : what is a hard job? The law stipulates that it will be established from a set of 10 criteria (level of noise, carrying weights over 30 pounds, working with the angle of the back superior to 45°, temperature > X, vibrations, etc.). The law does not say how, when and by whom the criteria will be measured : this is done, in the French system, by "Decrets d'Applications" (implementation decrees published by the government). Now (July 2014), when the government listens to employers, who are furious, it discovers that this is almost impossible to do. Will the boss of a small contracting firm or your next door garage hire a additional employee just to follow each worker during is work day and note how many minutes he will be carrying a weight over 30 Lbs or working outdoors in a temperature over 35 centigrades or below 15, etc. ? Even the government understood that it is an absurdly complicated system and the private sector is right to protest ; it was wisely decided to suspend the implementation of the law for a period of one year. If at least a few of the Socialist deputies who (all) voted this law had ever set their foot in a private company, they would have known that it was impossible to implement. This absurd law was (practically) abolished one year later by the same government which had voted it. Doing business in France is not easy!
    In the public sector, it is easier. For instance, do you know why employees of the Operations Department of the national train operator SNCF (total staff : 250,000) can retire at age 50? Answer : because it is very hard to feed a locomotive with shovels of coal. After WW2, the (then Communist) Minister of Transport decided that it was hard for the whole Operations Department, from the guy in the locomotive to the secretary of the Vice-President. Since, today's locomotives use no coal but the rule still exist and the SNCF goes on a national strike every time any change is under consideration.

  • The 2013 law on Part Time Jobs is another example of ignorance. It is not fun to work only part time when you would prefer to work full time and some employers offer jobs with unreasonable schedules. This is a fact. But some jobs require only part-time employees and it is also a fact that that some people want to work only part-time : people are different and companies are different too. However, the governement decided that, by law, it is now forbidden to hire people for less than 24 hours a week. Guess what happened? More unemployment, more under-the-table jobs, more unhappy employees and more unhappy employers. Bingo!

  • About two very strange (for American) French legal concepts
    Two concepts which both illustrate how much the French want to be protected have been made legal in the recent years. The first one, the “principe de precaution” (principle of precaution), was introduced in the Constitution in 2005. The second one, the “droit de retrait” (right of withdrawal), is included in the Code of Labor Laws.
    According to the “principe de precaution” a law or any decision made by the State or a public authority must not include a provision or any aspect that could include any risk that has not been fully evaluated and addressed (or something like that). Practically speaking, it can be applied to anything new.
    According to the “droit de retrait”, any employee can refuse any assignment that would include a risk he/she considers new or excessive (or something like that). Practically speaking, it can be invoked by any employee after an accident or, for example, an incident of violence against an employee by a customer.
    Their formulation in the texts is so vague and so general that they can be invoked by the Conseil Constitutionnel (the equivalent of the Supreme Court) to repel a law for the Principe de Precaution or by a Court to authorise somebody to refuse the job he/she is assigned to for the Droit de Retrait.

    My opinion : this is ridiculous and those two concepts which have been legalized in the past twenty or thirty years are so stupid that they are rarely used.  The “principe de precaution” is never legally invoked but it is obviously a deterrent to innovation. The effects of the “droit de retrait” are comparable to a local strike : after an accident or an incident in a school or in a public transport,  teachers or bus drivers use it to try to negotiate a raise in salary or something about safety and work conditions.

  • More to come....

















This page is under construction...

  • In Feb.2020, Benjamin Griveaux, candidate of the president’s party to challenge the Socialist mayor of Paris in the March 2020 local election dropped from the race when a Russian activist published on social medias the picture of (parts of) himself he had sent to a woman who was not his wife. It raised a scandal similar to the scandal which had destroyed the political career of Representative Weiner in New-York a few years ago. This was widely considered  a new sign of the americanization of French political life.
  • During the presidential campaign of 2017, several cases of misbehavior by major political leaders were revealed. They were related to tu hiring of family members as political assistants in the Parliament on public expenses, some if not all of them for fictuitous jobs (Francoi Fillon for the Right and Bruno Leroux for the Left).Read about the 2017 Presidential election. Extreme Right leader Marine Le Pen and sevreal of her colleagues hired such parliamentary assistants in the European parliament (EP) and was presecuted and sentenced for that after it was established that they had not worked at all for the EP.

  • Thomas Thevenoud, a promising Socialist deputy, had just been appointed Minister of Foreign Trade when it was discovered that he had not filed for taxes for several years, he had not paid his rent for the past three years etc. ; he pleaded "administrative phobia" but resigned after only 9 days (Sept. 2014)

  • Christian Blanc was a prefect, then the CEO of several major French companies (RATP, Air France) then the head of Merrill Lynch-France, then a deputy (Center Right) ; he joined the cabinet in 2008 as Minister in charge of the Development of Greater Paris ; he resigned in July 2010 when it was established that he had bought (in two years) on tax-payer's money 12,000 Euros worth of cigars.

  • Jerome Cahuzac, in the cabinet of President Hollande, was the (Socialist) Minister of Budget in charge of tax fraud ; after having explicitly denied it in front of the whole parliament, he admitted that he had a secret bank account in Singapore with over one million Euros undeclared money on it ; he resigned (March 19, 2013) and, later, was sentenced to 3 years of jail.

  • Other cases include Agnes Saal (and her taxi bills), etc.

  • More to come (alas....)


Trying to reform in France : the failed retirement system project (2017-2020)

(This is a very general presentation and all the numbers have changed over years but this is just to give a general idea)

  • A simple system (theoretically) : The French system was built after WW2 with the objective to offer every worker a system which would be the same, which would not depend on the employer and on the economic situation. It is a system by repartition i.e. people who work pay each month a % of their salary (the same for everybody, around 7%), the employer pays another % (higher, around 15% and the same for all companies), the State centralizes all this money and reditributes it between all the retireees. If a company disappears, it makes no difference for those who worked for it. The age of retirement is fixed by law (in 1945 : age 65) and the amount of the pension depends of the end-career salary and the number of "worked trimesters" which means that it is extremely disadvantageous to work part time (if you work less than X hours in a given trimester, it is not validated for your right to a pension) and you need X (for example 165) trimester for a full pension.

  • Some very unfair aspects and many exceptions (with time) : with very strong unions, the major state-owned companies were not included in the initial project and had a much more favorable situation ; year after year, many categories of employees or specific sectors negotiated more favorable systems (notaries, opera employees, lawyers, fishermen, etc) : in all 42 differents systems. One of the most shocking example of a specific advantage : locomotive engineers could retire at age 50 with full pension when they had to load the coal in the furnace ; they still have it when they drive an automated fast trains and the clerks of the locomotive department at the headquarters too. Today the systems of all the old state-owned companies (trains, mines, post and telephone, opera houses, electricity, etc) are in the red and are subsidized by the taxpayer. If you have more than one job at the same time or if you have a very occasional or a job for only very few hours, not all of them will contribute to your pension.

  • Toward a less unfair project : Macron's idea was to unify the whole system, organize a transitory system so that nothing would change for present retirees and people within X (to negotiate) years of retirement, and create a new system, also based on the repartition principle, in which everybody would contribute by buying points (with a substantial add-up by the employer). The state would not contibute to the financing. The system would be neutral for most people, very favorable for people (and especially for women) with a discontinued career or periods of part time jobs and of course much less favorable for the future employee of the state-owned companies (but not for the employees already present). Everything was negotiable except the principle of a unique system and the fact that every contibution would be translated into points. When you know the number of points you have acquired, you know the amount of retirement pension you can get. This system has nothing new and all French professionals (see : cadres) enjoy a system like that in addition to the general national system.

    (Back to retiring in France)


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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books:

  • "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..)