France and Monaco
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 reinforced France’s anti-counterfeiting legislation and implemented EU Directive 2015/2436 of the Trademark Reform Package. It increased the Euro amount for damages to companies that are victims of counterfeiting and extends trademark protection to smartcard technology, certain geographical indications, plants, and agricultural seeds. The legislation also increased the statute of limitations for civil suits from three to ten years and strengthened 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 February 2021, the government launched a new French customs plan to combat counterfeiting for the 2021-2022 calendar year. Customs seizures in France have increased from 200,000 in 1994 to 5.64 million in 2020 (+ 20 percent compared to 2019). This new action plan will focus on improved intelligence gathering, investigation, litigation, and cooperation between all the stakeholders involved, including the Customs Office, which investigates fraud cases; the National Institute of Industrial Property, which oversees patents, trademarks, and industrial design rights; and France’s top private sector anti-counterfeiting organization, UNIFAB.
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 or 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 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 ($1,770) and €300,000 ($354,000) and/or up to three years imprisonment.
The French government is increasing its efforts to combat online piracy in 2021 with a bill on the creation of a new audiovisual regulatory authority, Arcom, to regulate websites and audiovisual communications. The Ministry of Culture (MoC) announced in September 2019 its intention to merge France’s digital piracy watchdog HADOPI with the Higher Audiovisual Council (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) to create a more powerful authority capable on blocking illegal sites and blacklisting pirate sites. However, the establishment of this new authority was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the appointment of a new government in July 2020.
France does not appear on USTR’s 2021 Special 301 Report. USTR’s 2020 Notorious Market List includes an infringing site reportedly hosted in France. The 2020 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.)
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 (10.95 percent); Air France-KLM (14.29 percent, although expected to increase temporarily to nearly 30 percent as part of a March 2021 bailout package); 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. Conversely, SOEs may get subsidies and other financial resources from the government, just as private competitors.
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 State as a shareholder must set an example in terms of upholding high standards with 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 will temporarily increase its stake in Air France-KLM, which was severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Although terms are still being negotiated as of March 2021, it is likely France’s stake in the entity will increase from 14.3 percent to nearly 30 percent.
The government was due to privatize many large companies in 2019, including ADP and ENGIE in order to create a €10 billion ($11.8 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 regulation in 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 wentinto effect January 1, 2021, and now applies 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.
The February 2017 “Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law” requires large companies based in France and having at least 5,000 employees to set up, implement, and publish a corporate plan to identify a due diligence approach and assess any potential risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, workers’ health, safety, and risk to the environment from activities of their company and its affiliates through the supply chain.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor
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 countries on Transparency International’s (TI) 2020 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 French anti-corruption agency guidelines can be found here: . 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):
Contact information for Transparency International’s French affiliate:
11. Labor Policies and Practices
France 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 peaked in 2020, at over 500,000, including 495,000 in the private sector, according to February 5, 2021 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 drop in the unemployment rate in 2019 and in the first quarter of 2020.
During the COVID-19 crisis, France’s partial unemployment scheme, which allows firms to retain their employees while the government continues to pay a portion of their wages, expanded dramatically in scope and size and kept unemployment at pre-crisis levels (between 8-9 percent). The government initially enacted a gradual reform of France’s Unemployment Insurance scheme in July 2019 but suspended it at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite labor union opposition, a government decree published on April 1, 2021 changed how benefits are calculated from July 1, 2021 to ensure unemployment benefits never exceed the average monthly net salary. Other changes, such as stricter rules for accessing unemployment benefits and the reduction of benefits for high earners will go into effect “when the economic situation allows.” Pension reform and the introduction of financial sanctions to limit the use of short-term contracts have been delayed until after the May 2022 presidential elections.