The Times They Are a-Changin’

June 2017

The Times They Are a-Changin' was the third studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on January 13th, 1964.

While drafting this issue, I realized that neither of my children knew the album’s title song, even though they listened to some folk music, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, when they were teenagers. I must have missed something in their education. History never repeats itself exactly, however it can be possible to make some comparisons. Not since the 1960s has the USA had public demonstrations of such size and frequency as we have seen in recent months. In both cases, the demonstrations are against federal government police – in those days, for civil rights and against the Vietnam war. Dylan, as early as 1964, captured this massive wave of change, which was growing in momentum.

Today, people also express themselves in “town hall” meetings with their congressional representatives. The discussions are mainly about healthcare coverage. Aside from the question “Is this the right policy for the USA?”, it seems to me that this song captures the spirit of what is going on today, both the major changes the federal government is trying to make and the sizable expression of people wanting things to be different.

It does not take a crystal ball to see that France, with its newly elected president, is also headed toward a time of major change and major resistance. That does not mean the two countries’ presidents are alike, just that they are adopting some radical policies.

On a much lower level, someone living abroad needs to change big time to fit into their new country, and adjusting to France is no exception. Aside from expats who stay in France for only a few years and barely mingle with French society, foreigners who move to France on their own are often on a soul-searching quest, even if it is a minor one. It may be an escape from personal trauma, though always presented in a positive way, such as, “I love France and the opportunity to learn something new.”

It is absolutely true that undertaking immigration on one’s own is a lifelong learning experience. That does not negate my observation; it may even explain why someone would be interested in cutting ties with home to wander in a country of which they know very little, regardless of how often they visited on vacation. As one of my clients recently admitted, he never expected such a radical change in his life – he thought he knew France. He could have sung “The Times They Are a-Changin' ”; he was of my generation and would have known the song.

MY SUMMER VACATION: THE OFFICE IS CLOSED IN JUNE
The office will be closed for less than two weeks starting Thursday, June 8th, reopening on Wednesday, June 21st. As always, I will be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. This time I am leaving France and email will be the only way to reach me in my absence.

THE RESULTS OF THE FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Emmanuel Macron was elected by a large margin and this is good news. But just about everything else is bad news, looking at the details of the results of this election. I would like to review these disturbing figures.

First, the share of spoiled or unmarked ballots topped almost 12%, which was unheard of. It means a large fraction of French voters could not decide between Mr. Macron and Marine Le Pen, and wanted this to be known. It sends a powerful message when people take the time to go vote knowing their votes will not be valid.

Furthermore, about 25% of registered voters did not go to the polls. Except in places where voting is mandatory, there are always people who do not vote. Usually more people vote in the second round than in the first one. This time, it was the other way around, and the non-voting rate was high for France for the second round of a presidential election. That alone is quite troubling, regardless of people’s reasons for staying away.

Many people add those two figures and state that Mr. Macron came first, angry people came second with 37%, and Ms. Le Pen came third. Of course, the official results do not say that. Still, the point is valid.

I believe that overlooking this striking outcome would be a serious mistake. People had to be really angry to behave this way. Also, there were many sizable demonstrations on election day, with considerable violence. This, too, is almost unheard of: generally people rejoice, since the majority wins and minority voters lick their wounds in silence. It is difficult to know why people were so angry that they immediately took to the streets. It is clear that all this, when added to the share of the vote that Ms. Le Pen received, indicates that in fact a majority of French voters are unhappy.

To conclude, I would like to point out where the word “republic” comes from:
Res = in Latin means things
Publica = in Latin means common good of the people.

The very root of the idea is that the republic is intended to protect the common good of the people – understood as meaning everyone. This is true for both the USA and France. We have recently seen two presidential elections that ended up with two very different results. In both cases, a large share of the people were and are angry.

This cannot be ignored.

THE NEWLY ELECTED FRENCH PRESIDENT, MR. MACRON
Normally I would be quite cynical about a newly elected president, expecting him to forget overnight half the promises he was elected on and have a think tank come up with ways to minimize the changes derived from the other half. Everybody stated, in both in France and the USA, that a new era had started with a new president.

A few things are worth mentioning, however, even though President Macron has held this position for only a short period.

On Facebook and elsewhere, I saw the following meme: “This is the first time in history that the French president will speak better English than the American president.”

I am not qualified to evaluate and compare their mastery of the English language. But whether the meme is true or false, it is worth noticing. People used to joke, “Who is worse than Americans at learning a foreign language? The French!” For along time there was some truth in that. But things have changed in France, without really making headlines anywhere.

On May 15th 2012, Jean-Marc Ayrault became the French prime minister. He was also a certified German teacher at high school and university level. I do not believe he ever had a chance to solidify his relationship with Germany, but here was a bilingual person leading the French government. I saw this as a hint that it was time for a change.

About 25 years ago, the best business schools in France started to offer curriculums almost entirely in English, usually with native English speakers as teachers. Slowly but surely, this has changed the profile of French economic leaders, especially those holding CEO positions.

On September 1st, 2008, Mr. Macron started to work for Rothschild & Cie Banque, with a specialty in multinational mergers and acquisitions. At that level in the global business world, everything is done in English. Year after year, deal after deal, he must have mastered English really well to be good at his job. This gives a hint of his level.

This is no joke: I have heard him saying in both French and English that Americans are welcome in France because a new era of entrepreneurship has started here. His ability to make this comment and not be seen by the public and the media as a laughing stock says a lot about how credible his statement is. Perhaps only a handful of Americans will respond positively to the invitation, but there is one thing I am sure of: the new president will welcome immigrants. In particular, I can envisage the passeport talent status growing, applying to more situations and becoming easier to obtain. Making France a land of business opportunities to challenge the USA is certainly wishful thinking, and unlikely to happen in my lifetime. Striving for it, though, and implementing policies to make it possible, is his vision, as his track record shows.

What was initially called the Macron law, but which ended up being watered down and called the El Khomri law, was passed on August 8th, 2016, to deal mainly with French labor laws. Even after the law was passed, the result is such a complex situation that I believe both parties, employer and employee, are entangled in an unhealthy relationship. The fact that the situation is biased in favor of the employee while trying to help businesses create more jobs makes the situation even more schizophrenic. I have no idea if Mr. Macron has found a solution for the problem. I know a majority of the French people would disagree, but I think shaking this situation all the way down to its roots is better than leaving it as it is. If he succeeds, it will be a big step in the direction of making France a land of business opportunities.

One last comment on this topic: The Rothschild bank is not like Goldman Sachs, especially regarding their respective histories. The Rothschild family business blossomed in 1760 in England and in Frankfurt (Germany), which led to the creation of family banks in England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Georges Pompidou, the French president from 1969 to 1974 and before that prime minister, worked at Rothschild bank from 1954 to 1957 as the closest advisor to Guy Rothschild, CEO of the bank. Like his predecessor, Charles de Gaulle, President Pompidou was adamant that bankers would never dictate the policy of France, that the government runs France. Forty years later, so much has changed; is any of this still valid? I believe it is. Going back to this way of running the country would for sure be a major and very drastic change.

FOREIGNERS GETTING PACSed IN FRANCE
France and many other countries have an alternative status to marriage. The French one is called PACS, which stands for pacte civil de solidarité. The law creating it was passed on October 13th 1999, and the status is still quite popular. The intent was to offer an alternative to marriage for same sex couples. In 2015, there were 188 947 PACS unions for 236 316 weddings. Homosexual couples accounted for 3.71% of the PACS cases. Everybody in France considers PACS as a real alternative to marriage. Soon there could be as many PACS unions as there are marriages.

Many foreigners get “PACSed” in France, as there is no need to be French. Foreigners are asked to produce a legal opinion (certificate de coutume) that they have the legal right to get PACSed in their home country or countries, and a certificate that they are single (attestation de celibate). Many embassies in Paris are now equipped to respond to demands for documents from the French administration when it comes to a wedding, as all countries recognizes the legal status of marriage. But relatively few have a status equivalent to the PACS, which creates some confusion. Either the embassy states that it cannot provide the certificate de coutume because nothing similar exists, or it addresses the PACS more or less as a business partnership, totally missing the point.

However, the purpose of the two documents is exactly the same for a PACS as for a wedding. Therefore, the solution is, when asking for the documents, to state that it is for a wedding; the fact that occasionally the certificates state that they are for the celebration of a wedding does not disqualify them for a PACS. Some embassies have very strict guidelines and will only issue the documents when the couple has already registered with the city hall and started the process. Thus you can go to your local city hall and state that you are interested in getting married. You then get the kit from the city hall to prepare for the wedding, and later show it to the embassy to get the required certificates.

This might seem like deceiving the authorities of both countries. I see it merely as handling a situation where what is asked for does not exist in one country, and finding a substitute. Since both statuses are very close in France in terms of rights and obligations, I do not see this as being deceitful, especially since the Tribunal d’Instance accepts the documents drafted for marriages without any problem.

Being a foreigner often means being creative in order to get things done, since very little fits naturally between the two countries.

Best regards,

SPLITTING ASSETS AND DEBTS AFTER A DIVORCE DECREE

QUESTION

After living in France for over ten years and being married for just about as long, I finally asked for a divorce. I left my husband several years ago on the excuse that I got a good job in another city and the daily commute would be insane. So it was a mutually agreed divorce, requête conjointe, and I agreed on everything just to get rid of him.
The procedure took over a year, and now I hate myself for having done this. He was not working and used my money in the joint bank account to enjoy himself while I was earning this money working hard. Also I did not say anything about his affairs in France and in my country.

I would like him to pay me about 40,000€, which is what I consider to be the most obvious and fully documented theft he committed against me. My lawyer says it is impossible, the divorce decree is final and all I can do is to split the community property we have, i.e. all that I earned alone will be split in two, which is adding insult to injury. I cannot accept that. Is there any way I can salvage some of my stuff without sharing with him?

 


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ANSWER

Your lawyer’s answer is legally 100% accurate. Whatever the reasons were, you agreed to everything and the judge enforced the agreement. This aspect of your situation cannot be changed. Do not be too hard on yourself; you handled the situation as best you could at the time, and you felt that getting the divorce the fastest way possible was the best way to stop his use of your money. Now your priorities have changed.
There are several reasons why what you want is legally impossible, on top of the fact that the decree is final.

First and foremost, in France there is no stealing between spouses. They supposedly share everything, so it is technically impossible for one to steal from the other. All the money you consider he stole from you, French law does not see it that way, and you have no legal ground to claim that, regardless of the reality of what he did.

Almost as important is that the money was in a joint bank account, so how can you prove that he used the money and not you? Coming up with convincing proof that the ludicrous spending was him and not you is virtually impossible.

You may think that any loans he took out were his alone, and that you can prove it because he signed them. Unfortunately, consumer loans are by law considered to be taken out for the good of the family and therefore are legally considered to be communal even though you did not sign them.

So this is clearly not the strategy for you. However, maybe you should not lose all hope of success. You just need to look at the situation from a completely different angle.

A notaire cannot force people to sign a dissolution of community property, whether it is one notaire working for you both, or you each have your own. So perhaps your initial position should be that if he wants you to sign, he should add this money to what goes to you. His answer will be that the divorce decree does not say that and he has no reason to agree to it. He may even point out that the court will rule on a final split if the parties cannot agree. He will think that this would just be strict application of the law and the previous ruling.

Your position, in response, should be that you welcome going to court because you have ample proof that he never contributed to the common good of the marriage, as he was keeping his money to himself and asking you to finance his trips abroad to spend time with his mistresses. Now the situation starts to be quite different. It is possible that proving all this will not change how the court rules and it will be an even split, but the fact that he failed in his obligation to contribute to the well-being of the family could change the judge’s evaluation of the situation. There are legal grounds for this obligation in Art. 214 of the Civil Code, which says: “They both contribute according to their means to the needs of the household.” On top of that he was using the couple’s (i.e., your) money when having his affairs.

It is more than likely that he will not feel comfortable having one or two notaires witnessing this as you submit your proof during the negotiation sessions. At this point, it is all about your ability to make him feel ashamed, vulnerable and scared of what could happen if the court learns about it. The more scared he is, the easier it will be for you to get a fairer split. I do not believe that you can obtain the 40,000€ you are asking for, but the stronger your proof is, and the stronger you are in the negotiations, the better your chances of salvaging something financial from this marriage. One last thing: you will have learned how to fight and you have learned that running away is never the best solution in such situations.

MULTIYEAR CARTES DE SEJOUR: THE SITUATION CHANGES
QUESTION

I came to France as a student for one year on the exchange program with my American university. At that time, I started to date a Frenchman. After several years of trying to stay and overstaying my tourist visa, I managed to get PACSed to a Frenchman with a lot of complications and even a harder time at the prefecture. I now hold a family carte de séjour for one year. The woman at the prefecture told me that I would get a two-year card upon renewing it. We are getting married just one month before the appointment to renew my card and I just learned that this card again would only be good for one year. I do not understand how this is possible. I though that marriage was stronger than PACS. I am sure that the prefecture gave me the wrong answer but they keep saying the same thing. That makes me very angry.

 


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ANSWER

I hear your anger loud and clear. I need to explain how the multiyear cards are issued and what the grounds are for granting, first, a carte de séjour valid for one year and then the next one that is valid for several years. The prefecture is right because you are asking for a different card, even though it has the same name. This is where the confusion comes from.

There are now five types of carte de séjour, compared with eight a year ago. The eight were:

  • visiteur
  • salarié
  • étudiant
  • vie privée et familiale
  • commerçant et artisan
  • scientifique
  • artistique
  • compétences et talents.

Now, while the first five have been retained, the last three are replaced by the passeport talent, which has ten sub-categories, each with different grounds for obtaining legal residency in France:

  • jeunes diplômés qualifiés salariés ou salariés d’une jeune entreprise innovante
  • travailleurs hautement qualifiés (carte bleue européenne)
  • salariés en mission
  • chercheurs
  • créateurs d’entreprise
  • porteurs d’un projet économique innovant
  • investisseurs économiques
  • mandataires sociaux
  • artistes interprètes
  • étrangers ayant une renommée nationale ou internationale (domaine scientifique, littéraire, artistique, intellectuel, éducatif ou sportif).

What you call a family carte de séjour is actually the vie privée et familiale status and it also has multiple categories, but there is no clear-cut list like the one above. When you obtained the carte de séjour in the first place it was under L. 313-11 7º in the code called CESEDA. This provision is as vague as it can be. It states that if family and personal ties are sufficiently strong then the applicant has the right to obtain legal immigration status, and it supersedes the strict application of the law. The minister of the interior issued guidelines so that this provision can be applied regularly and pretty consistently all over France. It happens that being PACSed with a French citizen and bringing proof of having lived together for at least a year complies with criterion of strong enough family and personal ties. With the latest legislation, if you were to renew your carte de séjour using the same legal provision, you would obtain a card valid for more than one year, probably two.

But that is not the case. Your renewal will be under L. 313-11 4º in the CESEDA code, which grants a carte de séjour to the spouse of a French citizen, as long as the couple has stayed together from the date of the wedding. This is why you will get a one-year card: as the spouse of a French citizen. The prefecture sees this as a new request, because it is grounded in a different provision of the code. It is true that marriage grants more and better immigration rights to the foreign spouse, but you need to get this status first.

You could omit to mention your very recent wedding (which will not appear on any of the documents you will submit) and get a two-year card, then fix the situation when that card expires. I am not sure this is the best solution, but you could consider it if you are adamant about obtaining a card that lasts more than a year.

DISCLAIMER

Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended as exclusively general information. Therefore, I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to be taken as professional advice


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