French Market Update – July 2017

July 20, 2017

France is great again?

Many of you have read positive articles on the new government in France and its freshly elected President, Emmanuel Macron. Is it real?

First, one needs to understand the context: a quasi-unknown individual a year ago, Mr. Macron has stunned all by winning the first, then second, round of the presidential election, as an "anti-populist", pro-European, candidate.

Almost as surprisingly, his party (called "Republic on the Move!"), which has been in existence for less than a year, won an absolute majority (with 350 seats over 577) in the subsequent parliamentary election, held on June 11 and 18, 2017, reducing, for example, the Socialist representatives to 28 from 280 in 2012.

This, in turn, means that for the next five years, Mr. Macron has both a mandate and an ability to implement his program. France, in electing him with such latitude, rejected the extreme right (with a Frexit program) and the extreme left (with a very high taxation program).

One of Mr. Macron’s key strengths has been his "extreme centrist" positioning, based on the simple concept that necessary policies are neither leftist or rightist ones; they are just common sense and should be supported by all reasonable politicians regardless of their original party. He also promoted a very large number of non-politicians to political positions, thus considerably altering the political landscape.

Being an ex-Rothschild banker, Mr. Macron is guided by a resolute desire to "open the country for business" and eliminate the disincentives to investment in France, particularly at a time when Brexit causes potential issues for businesses based in the UK. He also understands the need to act fast, and intends to pass his most emblematic promises, aiming at triggering a supply-side shock and boosting confidence, before the end of 2017.

What are these promises?

  • An extensive labor reform to "move the rules of the game" aiming at lowering the unemployment rate to 7% at the end of his term in 2022. Proposed measures include caps on financial penalties for companies sued for firing employees, allowing businesses more flexibility to define internal working rules, merging the various employee representative bodies currently existing in French business organizations to improve social dialogue. To achieve this reform expeditiously, the French Government wants to use a special procedure to pass the measures this Summer without extended debate in parliament. The details of the reform are expected to be announced at the end of August. Strong workers antagonism is likely, but the climate has changed and popular support for movements has weakened. 
  • Tax reform aimed at restoring France’s attractiveness: Among the key signals sent to the business community: a decrease of the corporate income tax (from 34.3% today to 25% in 2022), and, as from 2019, the replacement of the tax credit for competitiveness and employment (CICE) by a substantial reduction in the employers’ social contributions.
         Another aspect of the proposed tax reform will be the replacement of the general wealth tax by a special wealth tax limited to real estate and the creation of a "flat tax" on capital gains and dividends at a rate of about 30%. The purpose of this proposal is to favor financial investments over real estate ones.  These long-awaited measures will kick-in as soon as 2018.
  • A 50-billion euro investment program: Although not yet fully financed, this plan will likely rely on the existing program "Investing for the Future" launched by President Sarkozy and on a new wave of privatizations. This program embraces huge investments in training (up to €15bn), supports to the ecological transition, the digitalization of the healthcare system, investments in infrastructures (such as transports) and modernization of the State services, all of which will favor future business fluidity. A large number of these projects will be open for bidding to non-French entities.
  • An additional 10 billion euro "innovation program" is planned to invest into Cleantech, Greentech, AI, all in order to attract and retain start-ups.

A new momentum for foreign investments in France

After seven years of profound economic crisis, and five years of French bashing due to the former president’s administration, his tax increases and anti-business stance, France now benefits a true shift in perception. These changes have the effect to make France a desirable investment target, especially for business and real estate. Opportunities for foreign investors are relatively cheap, especially given the quality of the administration, education, health and infrastructure and the stability of the political system.

France has numerous fundamental strengths including its central location in Europe, excellent communication and transport infrastructure, significant industrial achievements in a wide range of sectors, high productivity, and a well-qualified workforce. All these strengths support opportunities for foreign investments, from the United States and elsewhere.

2017 marks Gibson Dunn’s 50th year in France.  With 45 lawyers, whose expertise covers all aspects of business law, such as corporate transactions, restructuring/insolvency, private equity, litigation, compliance, public law and regulatory, technology and innovation, and finance, as well as tax and real estate, our Paris office,  is well-positioned to assist all the Firm’s clients as their strategy shifts towards France.

Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the issues discussed in this update. For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyers with whom you usually work, or the following authors in the firm’s Paris office:

Bernard Grinspan (+33 1 56 43 13 00, [email protected])
Judith Raoul-Bardy (+33 1 56 43 13 00, [email protected])

© 2017 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.