December 2015 - January 2016
I would like to wish you all
A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
I am looking forward to the year to come, 2016.
"I Will Survive," first recorded by American singer Gloria Gaynor in October 1978, describes the narrator's discovery of her own personal strength following a bad breakup - but may also sum up what too many people have on their mind in the face of terrorism, whether they live in Paris, elsewhere in France or anywhere else in the world. Right it now feels like terrorist acts are possible all over the world. The feeling that we are all in survival mode, rather than happily living our own lives, does exist for many of us. But no one can function well this way in the long term, so we go back to life as usual, and push away the threat. It is one thing to militantly go out and be entertained when the mood is blue and fear is prevalent. It is another thing to do so without having to overcome fear anymore. This is the challenge France has faced since Friday November 13th, and we all hope that the country will continue to handle the situation well in these difficult times.
IS TERRORISM WAR?
The question of whether terrorism, and the struggle against terrorism, constitutes war is complex and the answer necessarily diverse. I do not have the expertise to give a definitive answer to this question, but it is one that we all must confront - most of us against our will - after a large-scale terrorist attack such as the one in Paris that killed 130 people.
One might be tempted to draw a comparison, for example, with what happened on 9/11 in the USA. Many experts have detailed where such a comparison is pertinent and where it is totally invalid. The idea that arming the French population would be a solution is pure insanity: this has never been a French tradition. Hunting weapons are the only firearms commonly owned by French people, and the number of gun owners is decreasing as more and more people move to cities.
There is an aspect of the November 13th tragedy and the way it has been handled that has not really been discussed, but that I believe should be addressed. With very few, short-lived exceptions, the USA never faced terrorism on its soil until 9/11, which was very traumatic and rightfully so. No similar terrorist attack, except at a much lower scale, has happened there before or after. By contrast, France and other European countries have had to deal with serious terrorist attacks over a period of years, or even decades. Keep in mind that WWI started because of a terrorist attack by an anarchist in the Balkans. In recent years, France experienced severe terrorism between 1955 and 1965, with several attempts to kill President Charles de Gaulle over the independence war of Algeria, especially because of the virulent reaction of Europeans living there. In the 1970s the French anarchist group Action Directe launched several attacks, twice killing prominent French leaders, while Germany and Italy had to deal with much larger anarchist groups. Shortly after that came terrorist attacks launched by Palestinians, and later by radical Muslims. The most recent major attacks, until last month, were bombings in the RER B at the Port Royal and Saint Michel stations in 1995 and 1996, part of a wave of terrorist attacks that started with the bombing of the FNAC store on the Rue de Rennes near the Montparnasse train station in 1986. Thus it had been nearly 20 years since the last French experience with a full-blown terrorist campaign, and the November attacks clearly took the population by surprise.
When 9/11 occurred, the closest thing Americans had to compare it to was Pearl Harbor, which was clearly an act of war against the American Navy. France has had a completely different experience of terrorism, and we can already see that the political and security measures taken in response to the latest attacks are very different. We all need to fight terrorism, and yes, it requires the use of the police, the army and the intelligence services. One thing is certain: in France we see terrorism and war fought on a battlefield as two totally different things, which must be addressed quite differently.
ADVERTISING AND BILLBOARDS
Until very recently, authorities at all levels in France have been passive regarding billboards, leaving cities and the advertisement industry to work together - one offering space for the billboads and the other managing them and syndicating their content. Nobody would have thought that billboard advertising could be seen as pollution.
More and more cities, however, are now banning billboards, either in the city center or within the entire city limits, as in Bordeaux and Grenoble. And a law was passed this past summer proscribing billboards at the entrance of cities of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
It is clear that this is the start of a trend that will soon affect all major French cities. It is also part of a much larger trend in which advertising in all its forms is something the public does not like and wants to be protected from. A recent poll showed 32% of respondents objecting to having ads put in mailboxes, for example. Advertising professionals must increasingly take this type of rejection into consideration.
A related trend concerns the way many people now watch TV through cables managed by Internet providers. On the Internet itself, people increasingly use software to block ads: 27% of French Internet users have installed such software. That percentage is one of the highest in the world, indicating that the French advertising industry needs to address this issue sooner rather than later if it wants to stay on the same page or webpage - as the public. It has reached the point that some sites paid for by advertising are looking into giving up this financing and charging users instead, promising in return not to inflict any ads on them.
They could look to Mediapart as an example. This French online investigative and opinion journal has never carried advertising, relying on subscriptions. Created in 2008 by Edwy Plenel, the former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, and three other former print journalists, Mediapart is published in English, French and Spanish. It has become a major player in the news media, coming up with scoops in a way the competition cannot match. It reached break-even point in 2010, and in 2011 made its first profit: 500,000 from around 60,000 subscribers. Mediapart played a key role in revealing and investigating two major French political scandals: the Bettencourt affair in 2010 and the Cahuzac case in 2012.
A related development is the growth of digital marketing, using social media and other outlets to carry on a sort of dialogue with individual consumers. This raises a lot of issues. The amount of data that corporations gather on individuals scares both the individuals themselves and the authorities, notably the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (National Commission on Informatics and Liberties, CNIL), the independent French administrative regulatory body whose mission is to ensure that data privacy law is applied to the collection, storage and use of personal data. Established by the law on Information Technology, Data Files and Civil Liberty of January 6th 1978, it is the national data protection authority.
The trend, in France as elsewhere, is to trust customer reviews more than anything, which creates a great temptation to tamper with the system by, for example, paying people to write fake flattering reviews. Companies are learning some of them the hard way that it is better to open a dialogue with customers and address their criticisms than to swamp review sites with favorable opinons. Nowadays a surfeit of excellent reviews just makes people suspicious about their authenticity.
Probably the most powerful response of the advertising industry to new media trends is the sharing of links between major players. For example, when you make an inquiry on Amazon, you will soon see ads about similar products on your Facebook wall, not to mention the products Amazon proposes to you when reaching the payment page based on data analysis of previous purchases.
In France, the CNIL monitors the use and sharing of private information, and individuals have the right to verify the accuracy of the information. In addition, some types of information are illegal to collect and use, even for research. But I am not sure the CNIL will maintain this tight position, considering the wave that is coming over the Internet.
For more on this issue (in French), see http://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2015/10/27/un-nouveau-contrat-social-autour-de-la-publicite_4797780_3234.html#b2qRpqlpeBr357Iu.99
CONTROLS AT FRANCE'S BORDERS IN DECEMBER
France is hosting the world climate change conference, COP21, from November 30th to December 11th. Since November 20th, 600 border control stations have been set up for a month to keep track of who enters France. It is expected that a lot of people will want to take advantage of this event to demonstrate, creating chaos, violence, traffic jams and so on in and around the conference site at Le Bourget. There is also serious concern about the potential for more terrorist attacks from a variety of groups.
I have often mentioned that for travel within the Schengen area no one is checked at the French borders, but there are police squads in trains, at rest places on highways and in airports, who ask to check ID. My experience is that until recently those controls were mostly done near the Spanish and Italian borders, where a lot of undocumented aliens enter France, and at the Belgium border to look for drug smugglers coming from the Netherlands.
Now, however, undocumented aliens living in France should avoid traveling for the rest of this year, other than taking commuter trains to go to work and even there the scrutiny is increased. The chances of getting caught are currently quite high. If you are an undocumented alien working for a family and are expected to accompany your employers on their Christmas vacation even when traveling in the same car think again, and inform your employers. They also run a serious risk as employers of an undocumented alien.
The recent events have seen an unprecedented number of police and army forces being deployed, first in the Paris region and then all over France. The message that was sent before these events was already enough to alert people to this; now surveillance measures are much more invasive. Spread the news.
For more on this issue (in French), see http://www.lemonde.fr/cop21/article/2015/11/11/cop21-beauvau-affiche-son-dispositif-anti-manifestations_4807020_4527432.html#P3882FxqT5yJ9yZQ.99
NEW FRENCH LAW LIMITS WHICH DOCUMENTS TENANTS GIVE TO LANDLORDS
When I talk about living in Paris as a tenant, I often start by reminding readers that it still takes about three years to expel a non-paying tenant, which is totally excessive for a private landlord who has a couple of properties rented and relies on this income to pay his or her bills. I believe the system will never work properly until this issue is truly addressed. Not all landlords are so wealthy that they can go several years without rent and not have a cash flow problem.
While I totally agree that most of the landlords' demands are outrageous and unacceptable, and it should be possible to limit these demands, it is also true that the natural desire to limit and even decrease the size and the nature of the risk a landlord takes when signing a lease should not be overlooked.
The recently Décret n°2015-1437, passed on November 5th sets forth the documents that a landlord can legally require you to provide:
ID AND ADDRESS
Identification can be a passport, carte nationale d'identité, driver's license or titre de séjour. Proof of current address may also be demanded; this can be the last three rent receipts (quittances de loyer), the last local tax statement (taxe foncière or taxe d'habitation) , or an affidavit of lodging.
PROOF OF SOLVENCY
Depending on the situation, this can be a work contract, a business registration such as the K-bis document, INSEE registration for self-employed professionals or a student card for students, along with the latest income tax statement (avis d'imposition sur les revenus). In some situations the landlord may also demand other documents, such as the last three pay slips, last two year-end accounting reports, title of real estate rented or CAF statements showing the amount of money received.
Note that it is now forbidden to demand that prospective tenants provide a RIB in order to set up an automatic rent payment, or a livret de famille attesting to such events as a couple's marriage and birth of children.
As usual, French law also defines the penalties for those not complying with the law, in this case up to 3,000 € for an individual and 15,000 € for a corporation.
In short, the government is sending a strong message, yet it comes at a time when there are so many candidates for every available Parisian apartment that no one will report non-compliance for fear of being blacklisted or having one's file being put at the bottom of the pile.
For more on this issue (in French), see http://www.lemonde.fr/immobilier/article/2015/11/12/location-la-loi-limite-les-documents-exigibles-par-le-proprietaire_4808289_1306281.html#TLxlhY191IFKMsIR.99
FRENCH BANK CHECKS ON THEIR WAY OUT
The French government wants to speed up the phasing out of bank checks and increases even more the use of debit cards. In 2016, the validity of a French bank check will decrease from one year to six months. The use of checks declines every year by 5%; in 2014 checks were used for about 13% of all transactions, one of the highest ratios in Europe. The authorities want debit cards to be accepted for any amount, regardless of how small it may be, which is reasonable only if bank fees per transaction go down. The goal is bank commissions of 0.2% to 0.3%. France has quite high commissions, between 0.5% and 0.8%, so there is room for improvement.
Using a check allows immediate payment without mechanical means, which is why so many professionals outside the medical professions push for this method of payment. An alternative is to enable more people to use automatic payments (prélévements), with the beneficiary of the payment initiating the transfer, making this method as safe as a check. Very few companies — mainly utility companies and Internet/phone providers — are currenty allowed to set up such payments. In the public sector, making all payments should be possible in this way, including those made to hospitals, school cafeterias and day-care centers. Small businesses, however, will never have access to this method because of the logistics of getting clearance from all banks operating in France. So small businesses like mine will continue to rely on checks for the type of payment that occurs at the end of an appointment with the doctor, plumber, lawyer, etc. France still has a lot of these one-person businesses, and finding an alternative to paying by check is going to be complicated.
I expect the banks to resist this change, but at the same time, the Internet allows more modern means of payment, such as PayPal. Eventually French banks may prefer to lower their commissions rather lose the transactions altogether.
For more on this issue (in French), see http://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2015/10/16/bercy-precipite-la-mort-du-cheque_4790960_3234.html#HoiCHTFpFcR1XqJ1.99
I NOW HAVE A PAYPAL ACCOUNT email@example.com
I would like to remind my readers and clients that I have a PayPal account. My business is too small to accept credit cards or handle prélévements. But I already have some clients pay my fees through PayPal at the end of the meeting. I see this becoming the best substitute for paying by check, especially foreign checks.
OFFICE CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS
The office will close for two weeks for Christmas, starting on Friday December 18th, and reopen on Monday January 4th. 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.
I would like to remind everyone that there is no January issue.
BUYING REAL ESTATE IN FRANCE WITH A RELATIVE
I am American and now have French nationality as well thanks to my husband. Several years ago, we were able to buy the Parisian apartment we were renting. Now my upstairs neighbor wants to sell his apartment. My mother would like to visit us more often and have her own place but she cannot pay the purchase price and maintenance, and would like to buy it with me as well as rent it out when she is not there. I am not interested in managing a short-term rental usage of this apartment right above my head! It is a small three-room apartment. What would be the right solution for all of us?
I have helped many people in such situations. Usually the people caught in this kind of situation are foreigners, generally Americans, who live in France but lack immigration documentation and therefore cannot claim that they reside in France. They buy a round-trip ticket starting in France. Going from France to the USA, there is usually no problem; the French authorities do not care about an American leaving and the USA sees a citizen coming in. Now, going from the USA to France, the same people look like tourists with a round trip started in France, and therefore a single ticket going to France, when the tourist status demands a round trip back home in this case, the USA. In this situation, nothing can be done; they cannot claim illegal immigrant status in France to explain the problem.
There is currently another factor that the general public does not know about. To prevent refugees from leaving their country right away by plane, countries have made airlines responsible for checking passengers' immigration status, especially their legal right to enter the country of destination as well as any transit country.
I believe that in your case, however, you should have a way out. Allow me to explain.
1 - Airlines are fined for transporting illegal aliens
For example, a Togolese citizen travels on Air France to Paris with fake immigration documents of excellent quality. At Lome, in Togo, he was able to board the plane since everything appeared to be legal. He arrives at Charles de Gaulle airport and goes through the French police check, and it is only then that the authorities discover that the documents are fake. Because of this, Air France is fined several thousand euros. The key question in this scenario is how Air France is supposed to know the documents were fake if they lack access to equipment enabling them to discover fakes? The question then might be whether it would be reasonable to equip African airports with similar technology. Could it be used to forge documents?
This shift of responsibility to the airlines is now the rule, with the amount of fine depending on the country. Nevertheless, in your case, your passport alone allows you to enter France without any questions asked by the French police. It is important to remember that.
2 - American airlines have gone a step further
I have never been in a position to get complete confirmation but it seems that US-based airlines have an extra obligation. They claim that the US government fines them if they are aware that a passager is an illegal resident of a foreign country or if they help such a person to travel. They are then considered to be an accomplice of an illegal stay. I find this very hard to believe, but I often see the consequences of such a position with all the American airlines. As an illustration, say that an American citizen travels from New York to Paris on an American carrier without the appropriate French immigration documentation and does not have a return ticket to the USA; the airline says the federal government can fine them because France could sue the USA on this issue. It is plain insane, considering how the French police address the immigration status of American citizens at the airport, but this is the logic behind your incident.
3 - What happened to you
The airline followed this logic exactly, to its end. They decided you did not have a right to come to France on a one-way ticket since you could not prove you had a legal right to live in France. In order to avoid being sentenced as an accomplice, they had to force you to buy the flight back to the USA, since you could only prove that you were American.
This analysis is faulty on several grounds, and you could use that to challenge the company and maybe get reimbursed:
a - You are French!
You showed them an outdated carte nationale d'identité. This is not a passport, BUT only a French citizen can obtain one, so it proves you are a French citizen. The conclusion is that it is impossible for you to be an undocumented alien in your country of citizenship, France. To be very technical, you hold a valid American passport and you choose to travel with this document to identify yourself to the various authorities you will encounter during the trip. This is very important, since American legislation demands it and the consequences of not doing it are severe. On the other hand, France has similar legislation that is never applied to Americans as far as I know.
The airline employees, for their part, have an obligation, according to this regulation, to make sure you prove that you have a legal right to stay in France. This can be done by several means. If the employees serving a flight going to Paris cannot read a French ID like the CNI, the airline is doing something wrong.
b - Your identity card was actually valid
As of January 1st 2014, the validity of the CNI was extended from 10 years to 15. To the airline employees the fact that your CNI was outdated by a few weeks indicated that you might have lost your French citizenship (as if it were that simple to lose one's nationality!). I understand that you did not know that a new law had extended the validity of this card, and it is somewhat OK for you not to know, but it was a major error on the part of the airline, whose employees should definitely have known that the card was still valid. The French administration has communicated extensively with the airlines serving France, as well as with the other EU governments and so on.
This is the legal analysis, but the fact of the matter is that many American companies have lost the desire to please customers and are now worse than the average French company, which is really saying something. Phone and Internet providers, airlines, banks and insurance companies are often mentioned in the media as having very poor customer satisfaction ratings.
I am really not sure that you will be able to speak to someone at the airline who has the ability and capacity to deal with the situation properly, acknowledge the error made and issue a reimbursement. Too often, people who need that kind of service end up in a maze. So good luck getting your money back. In the meantime, renew your CNI it could be useful.
Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. 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.