France and Monaco
France welcomes foreign investment and has a stable business climate that attracts investors from around the world. The French government devotes significant resources to attracting foreign investment through policy incentives, marketing, overseas trade promotion offices, and investor support mechanisms. France has an educated population, first-rate universities, and a talented workforce. It has a modern business culture, sophisticated financial markets, a strong intellectual property rights regime, and innovative business leaders. The country is known for its world-class infrastructure, including high-speed passenger rail, maritime ports, extensive roadway networks, public transportation, and efficient intermodal connections. High-speed (3G/4G) telephony is nearly ubiquitous.
In 2019, the United States was the leading foreign investor in France with a stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) totaling over $87 billion. More than 4,500 U.S. firms operate in France, supporting nearly 500,000 jobs. The United States exported $59.6 billion of goods and services to France in 2019.
Following the election of French President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, the French government implemented significant labor market and tax reforms. By relaxing the rules on companies to hire and fire employees and by offering investment incentives, Macron has buoyed ease of doing business in France. However, Macron will likely delay or abandon the second phase of his envisioned reforms for unemployment benefits and pensions due to more pressing concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Business France, the government investment promotion agency, recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France).
Recent reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm.
On December 31, 2019 the government issued a national security decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.
Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includesloweringfrom 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.
In 2019 France passed a digital services tax. The 2019 tax law reduces corporate tax on profits over €500,000 ($550,000) to 31 percent for 2019, 28 percent in 2020, 26.5 percent in 2021 and 25 percent in 2022.
In 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on France’s macroeconomic outlook will be severe. GDP shrank 5.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter, the sharpest economic contraction since 1949. France’s official statistical agency INSEE attributed this fall to the government’s restrictions on economic activity due to the pandemic. However, the GDP figure incorporates only two weeks of France’s confinement, which began March 17, leading economists to predict that second quarter figures will be significantly worse. The Q1 figure marks the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, after shrinking 0.1 percent in Q4 of 2019, meaning France has officially fallen into a technical recession. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced in April 2020 that he expects economic activity to decline by 8 percent in 2020, the public deficit to increase to 9 percent of GDP, and debt to rise to 115 percent of GDP.
In response to the economic impact of the pandemic, the government launched a €410 billion ($447 billion) emergency fiscal package in March 2020. The bulk of the package aims to support businesses through loan guarantees and deferrals on tax and social security payments. The remainder is allocated to stabilizing households and demand, largely through its €24 billion ($26 billion) temporary unemployment scheme that allows workers to stay home while continuing to collect a portion of their wages.
Although France’s emergency fund is sizeable at 16 percent of GDP, it is not sufficient to fully absorb the economic impact of the pandemic. Key issues to watch in 2020 include: 1) the degree to which COVID-19 continues to agitate the macroeconomic environment; and 2) the size and scope of recovery measures, including additional fiscal support from the government of France, a broader EU rescue package, and the monetary response from the European Central Bank.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||23 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||32 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2019||16 of 129||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2018||USD 86,863||http://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||USD 41,080||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
France welcomes foreign investment. In the current economic climate, the French government sees foreign investment as a means to create additional jobs and stimulate growth. Investment regulations are simple, and a range of financial incentives are available to foreign investors, who report they find France’s skilled and productive labor force, good infrastructure, technology, and central location in Europe attractive. France’s membership in the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone facilitates the efficient movement of people, services, capital, and goods. However, notwithstanding French efforts at economic and tax reform, market liberalization, and attracting foreign investment, perceived disincentives to investing in France include the relatively high tax environment. Labor market fluidity is improving due to labor market reforms but is still rigid compared to some OECD economies.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
France is among the least restrictive countries for foreign investment. With a few exceptions in certain specified sectors, there are no statutory limits on foreign ownership of companies. Foreign entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.
France maintains a national security review mechanism to screen high-risk investments. French law stipulates that control by acquisition of a domiciled company or subsidiary operating in certain sectors deemed crucial to France’s national interests relating to public order, public security and national defense are subject to prior notification, review, and approval by the Economy and Finance Minister. Other sectors requiring approval include energy infrastructure; transportation networks; public water supplies; electronic communication networks; public health protection; and installations vital to national security. In 2018, four additional categories – semiconductors, data storage, artificial intelligence and robotics – were added to the list requiring a national security review. For all listed sectors, France can block foreign takeovers of French companies according to the provisions of the Montebourg Decree.
On December 31, 2019 the government issued a decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.
Procedurally, the Minister of Economy and Finance has 30 business days following the receipt of a request for authorization to either: 1) declare that the investor is not required to obtain such authorization; 2) grant its authorization without conditions; or 3) declare that an additional review is required to determine whether a conditional authorization is sufficient to protect national interests. If an additional review is required, the Minister has an additional 45 business days to either clear the transaction (possibly subject to conditions) or prohibit it. The Minister is further allowed to deny clearance based on the investor’s ties with a foreign government or public authority. The absence of a decision within the applicable timeframe is a de facto rejection of the authorization.
The government has also expanded the breadth of information required in the approval request. For example, a foreign investor must now disclose any financial relationship with or significant financial support from a State or public entity; a list of French and foreign competitors of the investor and of the target; or a signed statement that the investor has not, over the past five years, been subject to any sanctions for non-compliance with French FDI regulations.
Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includes lowering from 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Business France is a government agency established with the purpose of promoting new foreign investment, expansion, technology partnerships, and financial investment. Business France provides services to help investors understand regulatory, tax, and employment policies as well as state and local investment incentives and government support programs. Business France also helps companies find project financing and equity capital. Business France recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market ( ).
In addition, France’s public investment bank, Bpifrance, assists foreign businesses to find local investors when setting up a subsidiary in France. It also supports foreign startups in France through the government’s French Tech Ticket program, which provides them with funding, a resident’s permit, and incubation facilities. Both business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and minorities.
President Macron has made innovation one of his priorities with a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund that is being financed through privatizations of State-owned enterprises. France’s priority sectors for investment include: aeronautics, agro-foods, digital, nuclear, rail, auto, chemicals and materials, forestry, eco-industries, shipbuilding, health, luxury, and extractive industries. In the near-term, the French government intends to focus on driverless vehicles, batteries, the high-speed train of the future, nano-electronics, renewable energy, and health industries.
Business France and Bpifrance are particularly interested in attracting foreign investment in the tech sector. The French government has developed the “French Tech” initiative to promote France as a location for start-ups and high-growth digital companies. In addition to 17 French cities, French Tech offices have been established in 100 cities around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Moscow, and Berlin. French Tech has special programs to provide support to startups at various stages of their development. The latest effort has been the creation of the French Tech 120 Program, which provides financial and administrative support to some 123 most promising tech companies. In 2019, €5 billion ($5.5 billion) in venture funding was raised by French startups, an increase of nearly threefold since 2015. In September 2019, President Emmanuel Macron convinced major asset managers such as AXA and Natixis to invest €5 billion ($5.5 billion) into French tech companies over the next three years. He also announced the creation of a listing of France’s top 40 startups “Next 40” with the highest potential to grow into unicorns.
The website Guichet Enterprises ( ) is designed to be a one-stop website for registering a business. The site is available in both French and English although some fact sheets on regulated industries are only available in French on the website.
French firms invest more in the United States than in any other country and support approximately 728,500 American jobs. Total French investment in the United States reached $326.4 billion in 2018. France was our ninth largest trading partner with approximately $136 billion in bilateral trade in 2019. The business promotion agency Business France also assists French firms with outward investment, which it does not restrict.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The French government has made considerable progress in the last decade on the transparency and accessibility of its regulatory system. The government generally engages in industry and public consultation before drafting legislation or rulemaking through a regular but variable process directed by the relevant ministry. However, the text of draft legislation is not always publicly available before parliamentary approval. U.S. firms may also find it useful to become members of industry associations, which can play an influential role in developing government policies. Even “observer” status can offer insight into new investment opportunities and greater access to government-sponsored projects.
To increase transparency in the legislative process, all ministries are required to attach an impact assessment to their draft bills. The Prime Minister’s Secretariat General (SGG for Secretariat General du Gouvernement) is responsible for ensuring that impact studies are undertaken in the early stages of the drafting process. The State Council (Conseil d’Etat), which must be consulted on all draft laws and regulations, may reject a draft bill if the impact assessment is inadequate.
After experimenting with new online consultations, the Macron Administration is regularly using this means to achieve consensus on its major reform bills. These consultations are often open to professionals as well as citizens at large. Another Macron innovation is to impose regular impact assessments after a bill has been implemented to ensure its maximum efficiency, revising, as necessary, provisions that do not work in favor of those that do. Finally, the Macron Administration aims to make all regulations and laws available online by 2022.
Over past decades, major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. On April 11, 2019, France implemented the European Competition Network (ECN) Directive, which widens the powers of all European national competition authorities to impose larger fines and temporary measures. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position. It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance, and government ministers, companies, consumer organizations, and trade associations now have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices. While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.
France’s budget documents are comprehensive and cover all expenditures of the central government. An annex to the budget also provides estimates of cost sharing contributions, though these are not included in the budget estimates. In its spring report each year, the National Economic Commission outlines the deficits for the two previous years, the current year, and the year ahead, including consolidated figures on taxes, debt, and expenditures. Since 1999, the budget accounts have also included contingent liabilities from government guarantees and pension liabilities. The government publishes its debt data promptly on the French Treasury’s website and in other documents. Data on nonnegotiable debt is available 15 days after the end of the month, and data on negotiable debt is available 35 days after the end of the month. Annual data on debt guaranteed by the state is published in summary in the CGAF Report and in detail in the Compte de la dette publique. More information can be found at:
International Regulatory Considerations
France is a founding member of the European Union, created in 1957. As such, France incorporates EU laws and regulatory norms into its domestic law. France has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995 and a member of GATT since 1948. While developing new draft regulations, the French government submits a copy to the WTO for review to ensure the prospective legislation is consistent with its WTO obligations. France ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in October 2015 and has implemented all of its TFA commitments.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
French law is codified into what is sometimes referred to as the Napoleonic Code, but is officially the Code Civil des Francais, or French Civil Code. Private law governs interactions between individuals (e.g., civil, commercial, and employment law) and public law governs the relationship between the government and the people (e.g., criminal, administrative, and constitutional law).
France has an administrative court system to challenge a decision by local governments and the national government; the State Council (Conseil d’Etat) is the appellate court. France enforces foreign legal decisions such as judgments, rulings, and arbitral awards through the procedure of exequatur introduced before the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI), which is the court of original jurisdiction in the French legal system.
France’s Commercial Tribunal (Tribunal de Commerce or TDC) specializes in commercial litigation. Magistrates of the commercial tribunals are lay judges, who are well known in the business community and have experience in the sectors they represent. Decisions by the commercial courts can be appealed before the Court of Appeals. France’s judicial system is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable and is independent of the government.
The judiciary – although its members are state employees – is independent of the executive branch. The judicial process in France is known to be competent, fair, thorough, and time-consuming. There is a right of appeal. The Appellate Court (cour d’appel) re-examines judgments rendered in civil, commercial, employment or criminal law cases. It re-examines the legal basis of judgments, checking for errors in due process and reexamines case facts. It may either confirm or set aside the judgment of the lower court, in whole or in part. Decisions of the Appellate Court may be appealed to the Highest Court in France (cour de cassation).
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all sorts of remunerative activities. U.S. investment in France is subject to the provisions of the Convention of Establishment between the United States of America and France, which was signed in 1959 and remains in force. The rights it provides U.S. nationals and companies include: rights equivalent to those of French nationals in all commercial activities (excluding communications, air transportation, water transportation, banking, the exploitation of natural resources, the production of electricity, and professions of a scientific, literary, artistic, and educational nature, as well as certain regulated professions like doctors and lawyers). Treatment equivalent to that of French or third-country nationals is provided with respect to transfer of funds between France and the United States. Property is protected from expropriation except for public purposes; in that case it is accompanied by payment that is just, realizable and prompt.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm. The Authority issues decisions and opinions mostly on antitrust issues, but its influence on competition issues is growing. For example, following a complaint in November 2019 by several French, European, and international associations of press publishers against Google over the use of their content online without compensation, the Authority ordered the U.S. company to start negotiating in good faith with news publishers over the use of their content online. On December 20, 2019, Google was fined €150 million ($162 million) for abuse of dominant position. Following an in-depth review of the online ad sector, the Competition Authority found Google Ads to be “opaque and difficult to understand” and applied in “an unfair and random manner.”
The Competition Authority launches regular in-depth investigations into various sectors of the economy, which may lead to formal investigations and fines. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position. It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance. Government ministers, companies, consumer organizations and trade associations have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices. While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.
A new law on Economic Growth, Activity and Equal Opportunities (known as the “Macron Law”), adopted in August 2016, vested the Competition Authority with the power to review mergers and alliances between retailers ex-ante (beforehand). The law provides that all contracts binding a retail business to a distribution network shall expire at the same time. This enables the retailer to switch to another distribution network more easily. Furthermore, distributors are prohibited from restricting a retailer’s commercial activity via post-contract terms. The civil fine incurred for restrictive practices can now amount to up to five percent of the business’s revenue earned in France
Expropriation and Compensation
In accordance with international law, the national or local governments cannot legally expropriate property to build public infrastructure without fair market compensation. There have been no expropriations of note during the reporting period.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
France is a member of the World Bank-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and a signatory to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) which means local courts are obligated to enforce international arbitral awards under this system. The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) has been based in Paris since 1923.
France was one of the first countries to enact a modern arbitration law in 1980-1981. In 2011, the French Ministry of Justice issued Decree 2011-48, which introduced further international best practices into French arbitration procedural law. As a result, parties are free to agree orally to settle their disputes through arbitration, subject to standards of due process and a newly enacted principle of procedural efficiency and fairness.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Civil Court of First Instance) of Paris has the authority to issue orders related to ad-hoc international arbitration. Paris is the seat of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration, composed of representatives from 90 countries, that handles investment as well as commercial disputes.
France does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. The European Commission directly negotiates on behalf of the EU on foreign direct investment since it is part of the EU Common Commercial Policy. In 2015, the EU agreed to pursue an investment court approach to investor-State dispute settlement. While this model is included in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada and the EU-Vietnam FTA, no actual court has yet been established in any form or context; no disputes have been brought under these post-2015 treaties.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
French law provides conditions for the recognition and the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in relation to the New York Convention. The provisions of French law are contained in the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Civil Enforcement Procedures. The French Civil Code envisions several mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) including out-of-court arbitration and conciliation where a judicial conciliator puts an end to a dispute. France is a member of UNCITRAL. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards as mentioned above. The recognition of judgments of foreign courts by French courts is possible, but judgements must be accompanied by the issuance of an exequatur – a legal document issued by a sovereign authority that permits the exercise or enforcement of a foreign judgement.
France has extensive and detailed bankruptcy laws and regulations. Any creditor, regardless of the amount owed, may file suit in bankruptcy court against a debtor. Foreign creditors, equity shareholders and foreign contract holders have the same rights as their French counterparts. Monetary judgments by French courts on firms established in France are generally made in euros. Not bankruptcy itself, but bankruptcy fraud – the misstatement by a debtor of his financial position in the context of a bankruptcy – is criminalized. Under France’s bankruptcy code managers and other entities responsible for the bankruptcy of a French company are prevented from escaping liability by shielding their assets (Law 2012-346). France has adopted a law that enables debtors to implement a restructuring plan with financial creditors only, without affecting trade creditors. France’s Commercial Code incorporates European Directive 2014/59/EU establishing a framework for the recovery and resolution of claims on insolvent credit institutions and investment firms. In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Index, France was ranked 28th of 190 on ease of resolving insolvency.
The Bank of France, the country’s only credit monitor, maintains files on persons having written unfunded checks, having declared bankruptcy, or having participated in fraudulent activities. Commercial credit reporting agencies do not exist in France.
4. Industrial Policies
France offers financial incentives, generally equally available to both French and foreign investors. The government provides incentives for capital investment in small companies. For instance, a French company or a subsidiary of a foreign firm that would invest in a minority shareholding (less than 20 percent) of a small, innovative SME would benefit from a five-year, linear amortization of their investment. To qualify, SMEs must allocate at least 15 percent of their spending on research.
Incentivizing research and development (R&D) and innovation is a high priority for the French government. Business France, the country’s export and investment promotion agency, reported that R&D operations accounted for 10 percent of foreign investment projects in 2018 and created or maintained 2,793 jobs, up 23 percent from the prior year. The United States is the leading foreign investor in R&D in France, accounting for 26 percent of 2018 investment decisions. International companies may join France’s 71 innovation clusters, increasing access to both production inputs and technical benefits of geographical proximity. Other components of this policy include: the Innovative New Company (Jeune Enterprise Innovante) and the French Young Entrepreneurs Initiative.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government implemented an emergency fiscal package on March 24, 2020 totaling €410 billion ($447 billion), comprised of: 1) Loan guarantees: €300 billion ($330 billion); 2) Deferral of corporate tax and social security payments: €50 billion ($55 billion); 3) Partial unemployment scheme to avoid layoffs: €24 billion ($26 billion); 4) Recapitalizations, bailouts, or nationalizations if needed: €20 billion ($22 billion); 5) Solidarity Fund for very small companies, the self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs: €7 billion ($7.6 billion); 6) system of repayable advances of €500 million ($546 million) for SMEs to purchase inputs; 7) Late penalties cancelled for all State and local government procurement contracts. The purpose of the emergency package is to fiscally absorb the economic impact of COVID-19.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
France is subject to all EU free trade zone regulations. These allow member countries to designate portions of their customs’ territory as duty-free, where value-added activity is limited. France has several duty-free zones, which benefit from exemptions on customs for storage of goods coming from outside of the European Union. The French Customs Service administers them and provides details on its website ( ). French legal texts are published online at .
In September 2018, President Macron announced the extension of 44 Urban Free Zones (ZFU) in low-income neighborhoods and municipalities with at least 10,000 residents. The program provides incentives for employers, who have created 600 new jobs since 2016. Incentives include exemption from payment of payroll taxes and certain social contributions for five years, financed by €15 million ($16.5 million) a year in State funds.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
While there are no mandatory performance requirements established by law, the French government will generally require commitments regarding employment or R&D from both foreign and domestic investors seeking government financial incentives. Incentives like PAT regional planning grants (Prime d’Amenagement du Territoire pour l’Industrie et les Services) and related R&D subsidies are based on the number of jobs created, and authorities have occasionally sought commitments as part of the approval process for acquisitions by foreign investors.
The French government imposes the same conditions on domestic and foreign investors in cultural industries: all purveyors of movies and television programs (i.e., television broadcasters, telecoms operators, internet service providers and video services) must contribute a percentage of their revenues toward French film and television productions. They must also abide by broadcasting cultural content quotas (minimum 40 percent French, 20 percent EU).
5. Protection of Property Rights
Real property rights are regulated by the French civil code and are uniformly enforced. The World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranks France 32nd of 190 on registering property. French civil-law notaries (notaires) – highly specialized lawyers in private practice appointed as public officers by the Justice Ministry – handle residential and commercial conveyance and registration, contract drafting, company formation, successions, and estate planning. The official system of land registration (cadastre) is maintained by the French public land registry under the auspices of the French tax authority (Direction Generale des Finances Publiques or DGFiP), available online at . Mortgages are widely available, usually for a 15-year period.
Intellectual Property Rights
France is a strong defender of intellectual property rights (IPR). Under the French system, patents and trademarks protect industrial property, while copyrights protect literary/artistic property. By virtue of the Paris Convention , U.S. nationals have a priority period following filing of an application for a U.S. patent or trademark in which to file a corresponding application in France: twelve months for patents and six months for trademarks.
Counterfeiting is a costly problem for French companies, and the government of France maintains strong legal protections and a robust enforcement mechanism to combat trafficking in counterfeit goods — from copies of luxury goods to fake medications — as well as the theft and illegal use of IPR. The French Intellectual Property Code has been updated repeatedly over the years to address this challenge, most recently in 2019 with the implementation of the so-called Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation or PACTE Law (“Plan d’Action pour la Croissance et la Transformation des Entreprises”). This law reinforcing France’s anti-counterfeiting legislation and implements EU Directive 2015/2436 of the Trademark Reform Package. It increases the Euro amount for damages to companies that are victims of counterfeiting and extends trademark protection to smartcard technology, certain geographic indications, plants, and agricultural seeds. The new legislation also increases the statute of limitations for civil suits from three to ten years and strengthens the powers of customs officials to seize fake goods sent by mail or express freight. France also adopted legislation in 2019 to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market.
The government also reports on seizures of counterfeit goods. In 2018, French Customs seized 5.4 million counterfeited goods, down from 8.5 million counterfeited goods in 2017. However, in 2019, seizures increased by 49 percent, according to the French Customs Office. Cigarettes represented 45 percent of all seized goods. France’s top private sector anti-counterfeiting organization, UNIFAB, called on the government in 2018 to launch a national public awareness campaign. The government has been working on a plan to improve the coordination between the Customs Office, which investigates fraud cases, and the National Institute of Industrial Property, which oversees patents, trademarks, and industrial design rights.
France has robust laws against online piracy. A government agency called the High Authority for the Dissemination of Artistic Works and the Protection of Rights on Internet (Haute Autorite pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet – HADOPI) administers a “graduated response” system of warnings and fines. It has taken enforcement action against several online pirate sites. HADOPI cooperates closely with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) including pursuing voluntary arrangements that to single out awareness about intermediaries that facilitate or fund pirate sites. (Note that one of HADOPI’s tasks is to ensure that the technical measures used to protect works do not prevent the right of individuals to make personal copies of television programs for their private use.) In December 2019, HADOPI released its yearly barometer of online cultural consumption showing that 26 percent of French people acquired and consumed music, films and television series through illegal sites (53 percent via streaming and 45 percent through direct or indirect download). This figure has remained steady over the past few years. Offenders risk fines of between €1,500 ($1,650) and €300,000 ($330,000) and/or up to three years imprisonment.
HADOPI was due to merge with France’s audiovisual watchdog CSA as part of a new draft law on audiovisual communication and cultural sovereignty in the digital age, tabled by the Minister of Culture in December 2019. The reform was due in Parliament in March 2020 but was further delayed by the COVID-19 epidemic.
France does not appear on USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report. USTR’s 2019 Notorious Market report continues to list France as host to illicit streaming and copyright infringement websites. The 2019 report also listed amazon.fr, based in France, noting alleged high levels of counterfeit goods on its platform (Note: Other Amazon sites were also included in the report: amazon.ca in Canada, amazon.de in Germany, amazon.in in India, and amazon.co.uk in the United Kingdom.)
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
There are no administrative restrictions on portfolio investment in France, and there is an effective regulatory system in place to facilitate portfolio investment. France’s open financial market allows foreign firms easy access to a variety of financial products, both in France and internationally. France continues to modernize its marketplace; as markets expand, foreign and domestic portfolio investment has become increasingly important. As in most EU countries, France’s listed companies are required to meet international accounting standards. Some aspects of French legal, regulatory, and accounting regimes are less transparent than U.S. systems, but they are consistent with international norms. Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches and operations in France and are subject to international prudential measures. Under IMF Article VIII, France may not impose restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions without the (prior) approval of the Fund.
Foreign investors have access to all classic financing instruments, including short-, medium-, and long-term loans, short- and medium-term credit facilities, and secured and non-secured overdrafts offered by commercial banks. These assist in public offerings of shares and corporate debt, as well as mergers, acquisitions and takeovers, and offer hedging services against interest rate and currency fluctuations. Foreign companies have access to all banking services. Most loans are provided at market rates, although subsidies are available for home mortgages and small business financing.
Euronext Paris (also known as Paris Bourse) is part of a regulated cross-border stock exchange located in six European countries. Euronext Growth is an alternative exchange for medium-sized companies to list on a less regulated market (based on the legal definition of the European investment services directive), with more consumer protection than the Marché Libre still used by a couple hundred small businesses for their first stock listing. A company seeking a listing on Euronext Growth must have a sponsor with status granted by Euronext and prepare a French language prospectus for a permit from the Autorite des Marchés Financiers (AMF or Financial Markets Authority), the French equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) may also list on Enternext, a subsidiary of the Euronext Group created in 2013. The bourse in Paris also offers Euronext Access, an unregulated exchange for Start-ups.
Money and Banking System
France’s banking system recovered gradually from the 2008-2009 global financial crises and passed the 2018 stress tests conducted by the European Banking Authority. The French banking sector is healthy. Non-performing loans were 2.8 percent in France in October 2019, compared to 3.1 percent in the EU.
Four French banks were ranked among the world’s 20 largest in 2019 (BNP Paribas SA; Crédit Agricole Group, Société Générale SA, Groupe BPCE). The assets of France’s top 5 banks totaled USD 8.68 trillion in 2019. Acting on a proposal from the Banque de France in March 2020, the High Council for Financial Stability (HCSF) instructed the country’s largest banks to decrease the “countercyclical capital buffer” from 0.25 percent to zero of their bank’s risk-weighted assets. HCSF cited a “rise in tensions and volatility on the financial markets in the context of the development of the coronavirus pandemic.”
France’s central bank, the Banque de France, is a member of the Eurosystem, which groups together the European Central Bank (ECB) and the national central banks of all countries that have adopted the euro. The Banque de France is a public entity governed by the French Monetary and Financial Code. The conditions whereby it conducts its missions on national territory are set out in its Public Service Contract. The three main missions are monetary strategy, financial stability together with the High Council of financial stability (Haut Conseil de la Stabilite Financiere) which implements macroprudential policy, and the provision of economic services to the community. In addition, it participates in the preparation and implementation of decisions taken centrally by the ECB Governing Council.
Foreign banks can operate in France either as subsidiaries or branches but need to obtain a license. Credit institutions’ licenses are generally issued by France’s Prudential Authority (ACPR – Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution) which reviews whether certain conditions are met (e.g. minimum capital requirement, sound and prudent management of the bank, compliance with balance sheet requirements, etc.). Both EU law and French legislation apply to foreign banks. Foreign banks or branches are additionally subject to prudential measures and must provide periodic reports to the ACPR regarding operations in France, including detailed reports on their financial situation. At the EU level, the ‘passporting right’ allows a foreign bank settled in any EU country to provide their services across the EU, including France. There are about 1,031 credit institutions authorized to carry on banking activities in France; the list of foreign banks is available on this website:
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
France’s investment remittance policies are stable and transparent. All inward and outward payments must be made through approved banking intermediaries by bank transfers. There is no restriction on the repatriation of capital. Similarly, there are no restrictions on transfers of profits, interest, royalties, or service fees. Foreign-controlled French businesses are required to have a resident French bank account and are subject to the same regulations as other French legal entities. The use of foreign bank accounts by residents is permitted.
For purposes of controlling exchange, the French government considers foreigners as residents from the time they arrive in France. French and foreign residents are subject to the same rules; they are entitled to open an account in a foreign currency with a bank established in France, and to establish accounts abroad. They must report all foreign accounts on their annual income tax returns, and money earned in France may be freely converted into dollars or any other currency and transferred abroad.
France is one of nineteen countries (known collectively as the Eurozone) that use the euro currency. Exchange rate policy for the euro is handled by the European Central Bank, located in Frankfurt, Germany. The average euro to USD exchange rate from April 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020 was 1 USD to 0.90 euro.
France is a founding member of the OECD-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF, a 39-member intergovernmental body). As reported in the Department of State’s France Report on Terrorism, the French government has a comprehensive anti-money laundering/ counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) regime and is an active partner in international efforts to control money laundering and terrorist financing. Tracfin, the French government’s financial intelligence unit, is active within international organizations, and has signed new bilateral agreements with foreign countries.
–No additions for 2020–
Sovereign Wealth Funds
France has no sovereign wealth fund per se (none that use that nomenclature) but does operate funds with similar intent. The Public Investment Bank (Bpifrance) supports small and medium enterprises (SMEs), larger enterprises (Entreprises de Taille Intermedaire), and innovating businesses. The government strategy is defined at the national level and aims to fit with local strategies. Bpifrance may hold direct stakes in companies, hold indirect stakes via generalist or sectorial funds, venture capital, development or transfer capital. In 2019, Bpifrance had minority stakes in 244 firms and 62 investment funds that invest in businesses. It also provides export insurance.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The 11 listed entities in which the French State maintains stakes at the federal level are Aeroports de Paris (50.63 percent), Airbus Group (10.96 percent), Air France-KLM (14.29 percent), EDF (83.58 percent), ENGIE (23.64 percent), Eramet (25.57 percent), La Française des Jeux (FDJ) (21.91 percent), Orange (a direct 13.39 percent stake and a 9.60 percent stake through Bpifrance), Renault (15.01 percent), Safran (11.23 percent), and Thales 25.68 percent). Unlisted companies owned by the State include SNCF (rail), RATP (public transport), CDC (Caisse des depots et consignations) and La Banque Postale (bank). In all, the government has majority and minority stakes in 88 firms, in a variety of sectors.
Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, including from state-owned banks or other state-owned investment vehicles. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. SOEs may get subsidies and other financial resources from the government.
France, as a member of the European Union, is party to the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization. Companies owned or controlled by the state behave largely like other companies in France and are subject to the same laws and tax code. The Boards of SOEs operate according to accepted French corporate governance principles as set out in the (private sector) AFEP-MEDEF Code of Corporate Governance. SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report, and the French Court of Audit conducts financial audits on all entities in which the state holds a majority interest. The French government appoints representatives to the Boards of Directors of all companies in which it holds significant numbers of shares, and manages its portfolio through a special unit attached to the Ministry for the Economy and Finance Ministry, the shareholding agency APE (Agence de Participations de l’Etat). The 2018-2019 APE annual report depicted a “State that invests in the future and protects its sovereignty.” The State as a shareholder must set an example in terms of respect for the environment, gender equality and social responsibility. The report also highlighted that the State must protect its strategic assets and remain a shareholder in areas where the general interest is at stake.
The government was due to privatize many large companies in 2019, including ADP and ENGIE in order to create a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund for innovation and research. However, the program was delayed because of political opposition to the privatization of airport manager ADP, regarded as a strategic asset to be protected from foreign shareholders. The government succeeded in selling in November 2019 a 52 percent stake in gambling firm FDJ. The government continues to maintain a strong presence in some sectors, particularly power, public transport, and defense industries.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The business community has general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) in France. The country has established a National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, coordinated and chaired by the Directorate General of the Treasury in the Ministry for the Economy and Finance. Its members represent State Administrations (Ministries in charge of Economy and Finance, Labor and Employment, Foreign Affairs, Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy), six French Trade Unions (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, UNSA) and one employers’ organization, MEDEF.
The NCP promotes the OECD Guidelines in a manner that is relevant to specific sectors. When specific instances are raised, the NCP offers its good offices to the parties (discussion, exchange of information) and may act as a mediator in disputes, if appropriate. This can involve conducting fact-finding to assist parties in resolving disputes, and posting final statements on any recommendations for future action with regard to the Guidelines. The NCP may also monitor how its recommendations are implemented by the business in question. In April 2017, the French NCP signed a two-year partnership with Global Compact France to increase sharing of information and activity between the two organizations.
In France, corporate governance standards for publicly traded companies are the product of a combination of legislative provisions and the recommendations of the AFEP-MEDEF code (two employers’ organizations). The code, which defines principles of corporate governance by outlining rules for corporate officers, controls and transparency, meets the expectations of shareholders and various stakeholders, as well as of the European Commission. First introduced in September 2002, it is regularly updated, adding new principles for the determination of remuneration and independence of directors, and now includes corporate social and environmental responsibility standards. The latest amendments in February 2019 tackle the remuneration and post-employment benefits of Chief Executive Officers and Executive Officers: 60 percent variable remuneration based on quantitative objectives and 40 percent on quality objectives, including efforts in the corporate social responsibility.
Also relating to transparency, the EU passed a new regulation in May 2017 to stem the trade in conflict minerals and, in particular, to stop conflict minerals and metals from being exported to the EU; to prevent global and EU smelters and refiners from using conflict minerals; and to protect mine workers from being abused. The regulation goes into effect January 1, 2021, and will then apply directly to French law.
France has played an active role in negotiating the ISO 26000 standards, the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. France has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), although, it has not yet been fully implemented. Since 2017, large companies based in France and having at least 5,000 employees are now required to establish and implement a corporate plan to identify and assess any risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, workers’ health, safety, and risk to the environment from activities of their company and its affiliates.
In line with President Macron’s campaign promise to clean up French politics, the French parliament adopted in September 2017 the law on “Restoring Confidence in Public Life.” The new law bans elected officials from employing family members, or working as a lobbyist or consultant while in office. It also bans lobbyists from paying parliamentary, ministerial, or presidential staff and requires parliamentarians to submit receipts for expenses.
France’s “Transparency, Anti-corruption, and Economic Modernization Law,” also known as the “Loi Sapin II,” came into effect on June 1, 2017. It brought France’s legislation in line with European and international standards. Key aspects of the law include: creating a new anti-corruption agency; establishing “deferred prosecution” for defendants in corruption cases and prosecuting companies (French or foreign) suspected of bribing foreign public officials abroad; requiring lobbyists to register with national institutions; and expanding legal protections for whistleblowers. The Sapin II law also established a High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP). The HATVP promotes transparency in public life by publishing the declarations of assets and interests it is legally authorized to share publicly. After review, declarations of assets and statements of interests of members of the government are published on the High Authority’s website under open license. The declarations of interests of members of Parliament and mayors of big cities and towns, but also of regions are also available on the website. In addition, the declarations of assets of parliamentarians can be accessed in certain governmental buildings, though not published on the internet.
France is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. The U.S. embassy in Paris has received no specific complaints from U.S. firms of unfair competition in France in recent years. France ranked 23rd of 180 on Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 corruption perceptions index. See .
Resources to Report Corruption
The Central Office for the Prevention of Corruption (Service Central de Prevention de la Corruption or SCPC) was replaced in 2017 by the new national anti-corruption agency – the Agence Francaise Anticorruption (AFA). The AFA is charged with preventing corruption by establishing anti-corruption programs, making recommendations, and centralizing and disseminating information to prevent and detect corrupt officials and company executives. The AFA will also administrative authority to review the anticorruption compliance mechanisms in the private sector, in local authorities and in other government agencies.
Contact information for Agence Française Anti-corruption (AFA):
Director: Charles Duchaine
23 avenue d’Italie
Tel : (+33) 1 44 87 21 14
Contact information for Transparency International’s French affiliate:
Transparency International France
14, passage Dubail
Tel: (+33) 1 84 16 95 65;
10. Political and Security Environment
France is a politically stable country. Occasionally, large demonstrations and protests occur (sometimes organized to occur simultaneously in multiple French cities); these normally do not result in violence. When faced with imminent business closures, on rare occasions French trade unions have resorted to confrontational techniques such as setting plants on fire, planting bombs, or kidnapping executives or managers.
From mid-November 2018 through 2019, Paris and other cities in France faced regular protests and disruptions, including “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vest) demonstrations, initiated by discontent over high cost of living, taxes, and social exclusion. In the second half of 2019, most demonstrations were in response to President Macron’s proposed unemployment and pension reform. Authorities permitted peaceful protests. During some demonstrations, damage to property, including looting and arson, in popular tourist areas occurred with reckless disregard for public safety. Police response included water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas.
On February 7, 2020, a survey produced by the American Chamber of Commerce in France and the consulting firm Bain & Company cited a renewed confidence of American companies regarding France’s attractiveness despite an outpouring of social unrest during the first half of 2019 and often violent protests throughout the whole year: 41 percent of the investors positive over the next two to three years (+ 11 points compared with 2018), and 51 percent expected to increase the number of their employees in France. Furthermore, over 85 percent considered the impact of France’s reforms to be positive for investors. France’s Yellow Vest movement rekindled class warfare in France and exemplified the existence of two Frances, putting on hold on-going economic and labor reforms such as cuts to unemployment benefits and pensions .
In recent years, more than 230 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in France, including the January 2015 assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the November 2015 Bataclan concert hall and national stadium attacks, and the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. While terrorists continue to target French interests, since July 2016 attacks have been smaller in scale and most often perpetrated by lone actors inspired by, but with little direct connection to, ISIS or other international terrorist organizations. French security agencies continue to disrupt plots and cells, and their efforts have been aided by recent legislation and executive measures which strengthen search and detention authorities. Despite the spate of recent small-scale attacks, France remains a strong, stable, democratic country with a vibrant economy and culture. Americans and investors from all over the world continue to invest heavily in France.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
France’s private sector labor force is a major asset in attracting foreign investment. With a return to growth (1.7 percent in 2018 and 1.2 percent in 2019) and a drop in unemployment to 8.1 percent in 2019 from 8.8 percent in 2018, President Macron launched a labor market reform to reduce regulations and spur new hiring. Five ordinances (executive orders), which came into effect on January 1, 2018, introduced measures easing companies’ ability to fire workers including by capping potential damage claims in cases of wrongful dismissal, and a one-year time limit for making claims, which business organizations have requested for several decades. In order to make these proposals acceptable to labor unions, Labor Minister Penicaud increased regular required severance pay by 25 percent. For example, an employee paid a monthly €2,000 ($2,160) and fired after 10 years will be entitled to a severance pay of €5,000 ($5,400), instead of the previous €4,000 ($4,320).
Mandatory company employee councils for consultations on economic, social and public safety issues have been reduced from three to one participant. Companies of all sizes are now able to initiate wide-scale voluntary layoffs with severance provisions for employees for any reason without fear of lawsuit, but with the agreement of labor unions representing a majority of employees. Finally, foreign-owned companies no longer have to justify job cuts in France on the basis of their global turnover, but can base them on poor performance in the French market alone. These measures have been welcomed by the business community.
France’s has one of the lowest unionized work forces in the developed world (between 8-11 percent of the total work force). However, unions have strong statutory protections under French law that give them the power to engage in sector- and industry-wide negotiations on behalf of all workers. As a result, an estimated 98 percent of French workers are covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements. Any organizational change in the workplace must usually be presented to the unions for a formal consultation as part of the collective bargaining process.
The number of apprenticeships in France has increased by 16 percent in 2019 and now totals 491,000 in both the public and private sectors, according to Labor Ministry figures. Apprenticeships, like vocational training, have been placed under the direct management of the government via a newly created agency called France Compétences. Growth of apprenticeship and reform of vocational training help to explain the recent drop in the unemployment rate.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 from 8.8 percent in the previous quarter. This was France’s lowest unemployment rate since the 2008 financial crisis. However, youth unemployment remained high at 20 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2018 and 22.3 percent in 2017. France’s partial unemployment scheme, which allows firms to retain their employees while the government continues to pay a portion of their wages, has expanded dramatically in scope and size during the Coronavirus epidemic. Over half of France’s entire workforce was enrolled in the scheme at the end of April 2020. The number of job seekers is likely to increase sharply if the government follows through with its plan to gradually taper off the scheme beginning in June 2020.
The COVID-19 crisis may cause the Macron Administration to delay or abandon two planned labor reforms on unemployment benefits and pensions. Labor unions have asked the government to repeal its July 26, 2019 decrees gradually introducing tighter rules for unemployment benefit claims designed to encourage people to go back to work and save €3.4 billion ($3.75 billion) over three years. The new rules reduce benefits for all unemployed people, especially the highest earners (above €4,500 / $4,950 a month). Pension reform, approved by the government on January 24, 2020, and opposed by all labor unions in its current form, is also unlikely to resurface in parliament as the government focuses on economic recovery.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Given France’s high per capita income, investments in France do not qualify for investment insurance or guarantees offered by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Source for Host Country Data: INSEE database for GDP figures and French Central Bank (Banque de France) for FDI figures. Accessed on April 27, 2020.
|Direct Investment from/in France Economy Data in 2018|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||825,023||100%||Total Outward||1,507,926||100%|
|United Kingdom||107,911||13%||The Netherlands||177,372||12%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
The IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) database is consistent with France’s Central Bank database. The Netherlands appears as the second country destination for French FDI. This could be related to the fact that a few big French companies (Danone, Total, Thalès, Airbus, Air Liquide) have their headquarters based in the Netherlands because of its attractive corporate tax policy.
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Portfolio Investment Assets as of June 2019|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||2,986,638||100%||All Countries||912,807||100%||All Countries||2,073,832||100%|
|United States||354,640||12%||United States||98,144||10%||The Netherlands||243,098||11%|
|United Kingdom||207,314||7%||The Netherlands||63,436||7%||United Kingdom||184,136||8%|
The IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) database is consistent with France’s Central Bank database. Luxembourg is a very attractive hub for asset and investment management in Europe.