France remains a major economic player. It ranks 5th worldwide in terms of GDP per capita and is in 4th position in attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). However, preoccupation about the future of France is growing in Paris and Brussels. Indeed, job creation is stagnating, unemployment rising and entrepreneurs encounter heavy burdens hampering their efforts to do business and thus contribute to economic growth.
France’s entrepreneurial potential and the necessary measures to support it, were the topics of a conference organized by the European Liberal Forum, Alternative Libérale and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung’s Brussels office on 6 April in Paris. The event took place at the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale, a private association created in 1801, counting numerous famous members such as the Montgolfier brothers, Louis Lumière, Gustave Eiffel and Louis Pasteur. It is the place where the Lumière brothers presented their “cinématographe” for the first time to a room full of interested investors. Léon Gaumont, the father of cinematography, was sitting in that room on that crucial day.
But what is left of the entrepreneurial potential and investment France was witnessing at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century? Social and labour mobility in France is low compared to its European neighbours and the country lacks political efforts to simplify business creation and entrepreneurship. When compared with other European member states, Sir Graham Watson, MEP and president of ALDE Party, rightly pointed out, that politicians in France could and should do more to support entrepreneurs. Sir Graham presented examples of other liberal policies aimed at facilitating entrepreneurship throughout Europe, such as the newly created “young enterprise foundation” in Denmark or public-private clusters called “innovation box” in the Netherlands.
The lack of liberal policies promoting French businesses can be summarized in an American joke: “there are no French words for laissez-faire!”. In view of the current lack of interest from politicians to boost entrepreneurship in France, the panelists, entrepreneurs and politicians, called for more liberal policies. Fiscal policies aiming at incentivizing businesses to employ young people, reforming laws regulating the labour market in order to boost labour mobility, public programmes supporting innovation and reducing bureaucracy were a few of the proposals put forward by the panel. These liberal policies would create the necessary context to promote business creation in France, especially for SMEs.