Cultural intelligence

France – Be Prepared and Patient

France, it seems is being “strangled by regulation” according to those trying to exist in owner managed businesses. New regulations come in every week. In the past two decades, the number of legal do's and don'ts has become so great that business people and economists warn that it is smothering growth just as the continent tries to dig out of its worst slump in a generation.

The regulations almost always flow from a desire to meet recent and broadly accepted social goals, such as environmental protection, accident prevention or access for the disabled. But as lawmakers pass more legislation and bureaucrats scribble more implementation orders, specialists say the result looks like a vast straitjacket holding back economic activity at a time it is most needed.

A recent report estimated that France is squirming under 400,000 directives, ranging from the amount of boiled egg a kindergartner can eat at lunch – half an egg – to precise requirements on how far mailboxes can stick out from the wall. Applied to business with equal bureaucratic fastidiousness, such rules and regulations prove expensive in the private sector. The problem has grown acute because France increasingly has a mindset in which all risks must be eliminated with what is called "the principle of precaution".

Another source of overregulation is the "mille-feuille" of government, the layers that start with municipalities, then cantons, and on to inter-communal bodies, departments, regions, parliamentary representation and ministries. Each level plays a role in imposing norms, sometimes contradictory. But with various government bodies providing 23% of the jobs in France, talk of reducing the overlap is largely ignored.  Sadly this is causing many French entrepreneurs to choose to leave and do business in another country.

French business is hierarchical and ultimately the final decision will always rest with the Chief Executive or most senior individual. For an outside person wanting to do business in France it is worthwhile to know that no-one can avoid the minefield of regulatory procedures and protocol necessary. Understanding what these are from the outset is paramount to being able to save time and frustration.

Share any experiences you have had about doing business in France.

Content information from Guardian Weekly, incorporating material from the Washington Post

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