【聯合報／By LIZ ALDERMAN／陳世欽譯】
Young Entrepreneurs Bid Farewell to Struggles in France
Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his sweater and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city’s East End , where people were hunched over laptops , working on plans to create the next Facebook or LinkedIn.
A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris , working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.
He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Why would you ever leave France?’ ” said Mr. Santacruz, 29. “I’ll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There’s a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good.”
An exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening when France can ill afford it. The nation has had low-to-stagnant economic growth for five years and a climbing unemployment rate, now about 11 percent.
Some wealthy businesspeople have also been leaving. While entrepreneurs fret about the difficulties of getting a business started, those who have succeeded in doing so say that society stigmatizes financial success. The election of President François Hollande, a member of the Socialist Party who once declared, “I don’t like the rich,” did little to contradict that impression.
But this year, Mr. Hollande has put forward several proposals to make France more alluring for entrepreneurs and business, while seeking to preserve the nation’s model of social protection.
Those initiatives, however, have not stopped the outbound flow of French citizens. Articles in French newspapers have examined the implications of “les exilés.” Last month, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris, which represents 800,000 businesses, said that French executives were more worried than ever that “unemployment and moroseness are pushing young people to leave” the country . And as the Pew Research Center put it last year, “no European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France.”
Around 1.6 million of France’s 63 million citizens live outside the country , up 60 percent from 2000, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thousands are heading to Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and other cities. About 50,000 French nationals live in Silicon Valley , and 350,000 are now rooted in Britain. Many say they may not return.
Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France’s biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. “In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here,” Ms. Segalen said. “In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”
Mr. Hollande’s government is trying to re-brand itself as business-friendly, especially for start-ups. A large-scale technology incubator has opened in Paris. Initiatives have been offered to free up venture capital and encourage digital entrepreneurship.
A pledge that Mr. Hollande made in January included a “responsibility pact” — a promise to relieve businesses of some of the burden to finance France’s welfare state. In February, he announced measures to lure investors back to France, unveiling plans to stabilize corporate tax rules, simplify customs procedures for imports and exports and introduce a tax break for foreign start-ups.
These changes were welcomed by business, but many French expatriates said their country was marked by a deeper antipathy toward the wealthy than could be addressed with a few policies.
“There is this sense that ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ means that what’s yours should be mine,” Ms. Segalen said. “ That’s a very French state of mind. But it’s a race to the bottom.”
Axelle Lemaire, a lawmaker who represents the French population in Britain and Northern Europe in the National Assembly of France, said Anglo-Saxon- style capitalism was not the solution if it would compromise France’s social model.
In Britain, “it has been surprising to see the level of deprivation of some of my fellow citizens,” she said. “When things fail here, they can wind up without a penny in their pockets, living on the street. That’s the part of the story you don’t hear.”
At the same time, Ms. Lemaire said, France’s generous safety net could not continue unchanged without risking further economic malaise. “Socialist politicians all agree on that now.”