France – worker’s paradise or Steynian Dystopia?

11 April 2014

2:12 PM

11 April 2014

2:12 PM

Un autre jour glorieux dans la lutte contre réalité économique.

France’s major employers’ federation and two unions have signed an agreement whereby employees not subject to the country’s 35-hour labour restrictions will not be asked to read emails or answer phone calls outside of work hours.

Part of me rather admires this attitude, being rather fond of the culture of idling that has been replaced by the ghastly ‘hardworking families’ cult of the hyperactive elite. Lots of people only work as hard as they do because of exorbitant housing costs, and there’s no doubt that digital overload is not good for the mind.


But France is already strangled by a bureaucracy that is driving its most talented across the English Channel.

Liam Mullone made the point in a devastating article a couple of weeks back writing that:

‘You cannot lead even the most unambitious life in France without sitting an exam for it. There’s not much incentive to do anything for yourself, either: even if you remain insufficiently prosperous to stay clear of the 75 per cent tax rate, every self-starter who sells their business after ten years owes the state 60 per cent capital gains tax on any profit. Quebec has launched a programme to lure 50,000 French entrepreneurs to its shores, which is a bit like deciding to save 50,000 black rhinos.’

On top of this, France already has generous welfare and pensions provisions; well, generous is not the word. French women spend, on average, 27 years in retirement – yes, 27 years. That’s not a reward for a lifetime’s work, that’s a Steynian Dystopia.

The issue is not so much the principle of long hours, as productivity does not correlate to working hours; rather it is the idea that what should be convention or negotiated within a company needs to be set in stone by authorities, further restricting the economic freedom the country so desperately needs.

Unlike Mr Mullone, I am still teaching my children French, because whatever its declining practical use, it’s a beautiful language that will open them up to a whole new culture and to the country’s great legacy of literature. (Okay, okay, I admit it. The real reason is that I’m a snob, and deep down you just can’t be a proper posho unless you can speak French.)

Much as I love French culture, and long for my next visit, that’s sort of what the place is becoming – a place to visit.

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Show comments
  • David Jones

    What a pity you decided to start your interesting piece with a French sentence that contains two basic mistakes,

  • artemis in france

    Down hère in Montpellier it’s very nice to live as long as you’re retired with a décent pension. Our daughters would love to join us but the economic climate hère is awful. Still France keeps building ambitiously and seems determined to give the impression that life goes on despite all the financial problems piling up. the FN are more popular than ever, and like UKIP in Britain, may well have success in the European elections, but will not manage to unseat the two major parties during the Presidential élections in three years’ time. It’ll end in tears for Hollande but those three years will be long and difficult. |Sooner or later the social security budget will take a huge hit and then the streets will be full of demonstrators complaining that they can no long take “cures” in expensive thermal spas with a nice handout from the State to cover a lot of the cost (yes this still happens here – my former neighbour said her husband used to go on a two week visit for his arthritic knee and when I pointed out that any cure would be temporary, she agreed, but said if helped him to pass the time! I kid you not.).

  • jazz606

    “…But France is already strangled by a bureaucracy that is driving its most talented across the English Channel….”

    Don’t worry we’re catching up as fast as the EU and their UK place men can make us.

  • Whyshouldihavetoregister

    ‘Un autre jour glorieux dans la lutte contre réalité économique. … The real reason is that I’m a snob, and deep down you just can’t be a proper posho unless you can speak French.’ Since you mean ‘Encore un jour glorieux dans la lutte contre la réalité économique,’ you seem to have a way to go before becoming a proper posho. (Or perhaps it’s that you can’t even cut-and-paste Google translate’s mistakes accurately.)

  • DavEd CamerBand

    The socialists made the mistake of acting out their symbolic policies.

  • Jabez Foodbotham

    you just can’t be a proper posho unless you can speak French

    It’s hard to be a properly civilised or educated person unless you speak French. You can be posh without being either.

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      Unless you are a Fleming.

      (I love the way everyone (usually Americans) criticises the French and they do not seem to care. Like water off a duck’s…)

      “Gallic shrug”

  • beenzrgud

    France will be a workers paradise right up to the point there are no jobs for workers.
    France has lots of problems, the biggest one being that it’s run by the French !

    • wycombewanderer

      I live in haute Saone, admittedly in a rural area but a job search at Pole emploi (the job centre) reveals just 150 jobs available within a 50 km radius of me and that includes a couple of quite large towns (pop20k plus)

      • beenzrgud

        Profit is a dirty word in France. They strangle innovation and business before it can take hold.

  • Peter L

    Careful about taking headlines as reality, Mr West.

    I worked in France for a few years and loved it. I don’t recognise the “culture of idling” you speak of.

    Yes, the Public Sector is feather-bedded, and the bureaucracy is stifling. However, the average French professional person is very well educated, works mighty hard and simply finds ways around the silly rules. No-one of any stature works a 35-hour week, more like 55.

    Working for an American firm, it was routine to dial in to Global telephone conferences in the late evening from home – no one thought twice about it and they won’t think twice about it in future.

    • sarah_13

      What about those who don’t work for american firms?

  • mitate

    a pal once expressed astonishment that a frenchman actually understood my “cockney frog”. speaking french makes you a propah posho? je ne pense pas, mon pote.

  • La Fold

    Can remember visiting family in the Jura region and the look of shock on their faces when my father told them I worked on average a 50 hour week.

  • Fraser Bailey

    I was going to say the same – a wonderful place to visit. No wind farms in the southern Rhone, for a start.

  • Raw England

    The beautiful, Nationalist Front National will soon sweep to power in France and aggressively reclaim their nation.

    • wycombewanderer

      The Fronte Nationale are even more left wing and protectionist than the the current socialist government.

      • Raw England

        You’re talking Cheese and Oil, here.

        The Front National may be Left-wing, but they’re Left-wing FOR THEIR OWN PEOPLE, the native French People.

        They are also actively cracking down on Muslims and immigrants (AKA foreign invaders) in their nation, which is good. Hopefully they’ll eventually deport them all.

        And, if they get power, they’ll fuck the far-Left fascist EU right off.

        I’m also a Nationalist, and we’re neither Left nor Right. We’re the beautifully natural result of our rancid governments destroying our homeland and our people.

        • Wessex Man

          go and have a nice lie down in a nice dark room without oxygen.

          • Raw England

            You’re always so nice to me, Mr Wessex Xx

      • David Jones

        Front national. Not Fronte Nationale.

        • post_x_it

          It changed gender when Marine took over from papa.

  • Tom M

    “that’s sort of what the place is becoming – a place to visit.” …..or indeed retire to.

    • post_x_it

      Florida is not doing too badly with that business model.

      • monty61

        Horrific place, awful landscape, awful weather, and utterly dreadful quality food. Been there for work a few times and simply can’t fathom why anyone would want to go there on holiday. Give me France any day.

        • Marie Louise Noonan


      • DavEd CamerBand

        But France has always had that, they still have that (provided poverty doesn’t encroach on beauty) minus any industry they once had.