As Muriel Pénicaud, CEO of Business France, often says – without being overly naive or idealizing the country – France is often disparaged. Amid a prevailing atmosphere of so-called “French bashing”, Challenge and Osons la France jointly organized their inaugural Economic Summit.
“Talent and a vision for innovation”
Four corporate chief executives were invited to gather the views of those on the ground: a Frenchman, Benoit Potier, Chairman and CEO of Air Liquide, an Italian, Rodolfo de Benedetti, Chairman of CIR, a Belgian, Marc Grynberg, Chairman and CEO of Umicore, and a Swede, Olof Persson, CEO of Volvo.
All acknowledged France’s capacity for innovation and the above average productivity of the French workforce. Regarding the main areas to be explored to provide fresh momentum in France, Mr. Grynberg explained that it would be more constructive “to encourage rather than tax”: “Defining and supporting strategies, rather than taxing those who make the wrong choices,” he suggested, adding that it would be better to support electric vehicles than to tax diesel fuel.
Escaping the clichés about France
During the debate on the attractiveness of the French economy, attended by Yan Lan, Managing Director of Lazard Asie Pacifique, and Vince Volpe, President and CEO of Dresser Rand, Muriel Pénicaud was quick to reiterate a number of facts that are all too often forgotten: France is the third leading recipient in Europe of foreign investment, after the United Kingdom and Germany, and the second leading destination for foreign investment in industry.
There are 20,000 foreign companies with operations in France, where they employ 2 million people. Demographics, infrastructure, location and productivity are just some of the attributes that appeal to investors from emerging countries, in particular. Ms. Pénicaud was keen to point out that France continues to be tarnished by certain clichés in the eyes of the Germans, British and Americans, among others. “Many investors think of France as the country with the 35-hour week, but are unaware that French managers are the hardest working in Europe, clocking up 46 hours a week.”
All three speakers concluded by condemning this “French bashing”, which they believe is grossly excessive, while agreeing on the necessity to continue the efforts initiated by the reforms currently underway, such as the “Responsibility and Solidarity Pact” and the competitiveness and employment tax credit (CICE).