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, a dense network of public transportation, and efficient intermodal connections. High-speed (3G/4G) telephony is nearly ubiquitous, and France has begun its 5G roll-out in key metropolitan cities.
In 2021, the United States was the leading foreign investor in France in terms of new jobs created (10,118) and second in terms of new projects invested (247). The total stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in France reached $91 billion. More than 4,500 U.S. firms operate in France, supporting over 500,000 jobs, making the United States the top foreign investor overall in terms of job creation.
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, the government cut production taxes by 15 percent in 2021, and corporate tax will fall to 25 percent in 2022. Surveys of U.S. investors in 2021 showed the greatest optimism about the business operating environment in France since 2008. Macron’s reform agenda for pensions was derailed in 2018, however, when France’s Yellow Vest protests—a populist, grassroots movement for economic justice—rekindled class warfare and highlighted wealth and, to a lesser extent, income inequality.
The onset of the pandemic in 2020 shifted Macron’s focus to mitigating France’s most severe economic crisis in the post-war era. The economy shrank 8.3 percent in 2020 compared to the year prior, but with the help of unprecedented government support for businesses and households, economic growth reached seven percent in 2021. The government’s centerpiece fiscal package was the €100 billion ($110 billion) France Relance plan, of which over half was dedicated to supporting businesses. Most of the support was accessible to U.S. firms operating in France as well. The government launched a follow-on investment package in late 2021 called “France 2030” to bolster competitiveness, increase productivity, and accelerate the ecological transition.
Also in 2020, France increased its protection against foreign direct investment that poses a threat to national security. In the wake of the health crisis, France’s investment screening body expanded the scope of sensitive sectors to include biotechnology companies and lowered the threshold to review an acquisition from a 25 percent ownership stake by the acquiring firm to 10 percent, a temporary provision set to expire at the end of 2022. In 2020, the government blocked at least one transaction, which included the attempted acquisition of a French firm by a U.S. company in the defense sector. In early 2021, the French government threated to block the acquisition of French supermarket chain Carrefour by Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard, which eventually scuttled the deal.
Key issues to watch in 2022 are: 1) the impact of the war in Ukraine and measures by the EU and French government to mitigate the fallout; 2) the degree to which COVID-19 and resulting supply chain disruptions continue to agitate the macroeconomic environment in France and across Europe, and the extent of the government’s continued support for the economic recovery; and 3) the creation of winners and losers resulting from the green transition, the degree to which will be largely determined by firms’ operating models and exposure to fossil fuels.