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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

March 2023

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a 1939 American political comedy-drama film directed by Frank Capra, starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart, and featuring Claude Rains and Edward Arnold. The film is about a newly appointed United States Senator who fights against a corrupt political system.”

As a French equivalent, I would choose Le Président, a 1961 political thriller directed by Henri Verneuil and based on Georges Simenon’s novel of the same title, though with an altered ending. It tells the story of a French prime minister (Jean Gabin), who has toiled all his life for the national good. He is betrayed twice by an opportunistic younger politician (Bernard Blier) but gets his revenge in the end.

I have been following what is happening in French and American politics. It made me think of these movies, which, by contrast with what is going on now, are idealistic and uplifting rather than depicting what I think is the reality of politics around the world. I doubt that any real political system has ever been as good as what these movies show. But the French movie could be considered a kind of biopic of Georges Clemenceau:

“Georges Benjamin Clemenceau (28 September 1841 – 24 November 1929) was a French statesman who served as prime minister of France from 1906 to 1909 and again from 1917 until 1920. A key figure of the Independent Radicals, he was a strong advocate of separation of church and state, … as well as opposition to colonization.”

Both movies, in their way, address corruption, greed and self-interest. They also reflect a belief that good wins in the end because ethics transcends opposition along party lines. Even so, the reality was murkier. But the public had expectations of good governance, ethical behavior and common grounds when it came to what the country stood for.

Sadly, I find that in the USA and France, the public today has a very low opinion of elected officials and others who work in government, and even of law enforcement. So it is good to be reminded that there was a time when they were held to a higher standard: when the media revealed objectionable behavior, they would resign, drop out of the race, apologize and so on, even for wrongdoing that was not illegal. It would be nice if another Mr. Smith could go to Washington someday.

In watching American and French political life, I see a resemblance that few people mention. In the past several decades, it was rare for debates, emotional diatribes and the like to take place in the Chambre des Députés, the French equivalent of the US House of Representatives. But now that President Emmanuel Macron’s party lacks a majority, the opposition parties use such tactics to delay votes, hearings and other action, which infuriates the members of the government. All the parties involved, as well as the executive branch, indulge in surrealistic behavior, losing it at one point or another, leading to chaos and suspensions – in other words, pretty much what happens in the US House.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shows people having passionate arguments while staying civil and polite. The contrast between then and now is striking. Several times while watching debates in both countries I have made this connection. The scene I love the most of Le Président, which I have seen several times appearing on Facebook and I have put it on my page is, 
He calls by name all the conservative representatives (les députés) and states their close ties to major international trusts, conglomerates, or banks. He also talks about how expensive a political campaign is and how better is the return on investment when financing the political campaign of un député versus bribing local officials in the colonies.

The USA is used to these situations and the House will not get much legislative work done until the presidential election next year. France entered unchartered territory when the newly elected president did not win a solid majority in the Chambre des Députés. It is impossible to predict what will happen during President Macron’s second (and last) term.

American love to joke about, complain and ridicule France on the frequency of strikes and demonstrations, especially in Paris. The chaotic debate about reforming the public retirement system is one of the driving forces behind the current strikes and demonstrations. There have been lengthy debates on TV and opinions of all kinds from across the political spectrum about the strikes and marches.

One thing I have noticed is that, contrary to many protests in recent years, there has been hardly any violence at the end of these latest demonstrations, even the massive ones. I can see that the police are stationed very differently than they used to be around the demonstration routes. Few people have commented about this and the reason for the difference. But those who do are unanimous in saying that Mr. Laurent Nuñez, who became the Paris préfet on July 20th, 2022, is responsible for this success.

On January 16th, 2004, I was proud of myself when I walked out of the Institut National de la Propriété Intellectuelle (INPI) in the 8th arrondissement after registering the trademark “A Survival Kit for Paris.” It was just the brand name without a logo or graphics. The name said exactly what I wanted my business to be, and it was mine. It stayed legally dormant for over 10 years: I only put it on my business cards and letterhead until I created a SARL called A Survival Kit for Paris in May 2016. The protection that comes with the registration lasts 10 years, so mine will run out in 2025.

For some reason, the French government has added business registration and modification to the INPI’s responsibilities. On January 1st, 2021, an office was set up in the INPI to manage the creation and alteration of businesses. On September 16th, 2021, this office became the national business registry. Now, since January 1st, 2023, all online registration of businesses is done through the website pages of that office (see the INPI link at the end of this section). This applies to registration of all corporations, whatever the type or size, along with solely owned craft and merchant businesses (artisan – commerçant). However, consultant-type businesses (profession libérale) still go through the URSSAF procedure. This classification was created under Louis XIV and has remained essentially unchanged ever since. It is one of the fundamental business classifications in France.

The new INPI registration procedure is advertised as being easier than before. But when assisting a client with it, I found that every other issue was incomprehensible to an American who was truly fluent in French. So take the advertising with a large grain of salt!

I am sure this topic will have a sequel. Although the vast majority of non-EU immigration applicants choose to be consultants, independent teachers, translators, interpreters and coaches, there are still several who either need to create a corporation to comply with their chosen passeport talent sub-category, or their activities fit the artisan – commerçant status. This latest change is radical and cannot be overlooked.

For at least a year I have observed the poor performance of the procedure for getting French public health coverage after registering self-employed status for the first time. Formerly, URSSAF would send a letter asking for a file with passport, immigration ID, birth certificate and French banking information so as to create an account with the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) and start the procedure to obtain a French social security number. The file was sent to an office in Brittany, which dispatched the information to your local CPAM to implement the health coverage policy and to INSEE, the French statistics agency, for the creation of the French social security number. For years, the procedure was somewhat slow but predictable and thus reliable.

Now the system is so slow as to be dysfunctional, so it is no longer feasible to rely only on it to obtain coverage. Instead, once the letter from the URSSAF Brittany office in Auray is sent, you have to be proactive and submit the registration file to the local CPAM as well. Eventually, there may be two files active. But if you inform this Brittany office when it asks for the file that one registration has already been completed, you can avoid having two files in process at the same time. Keep in mind that this is the procedure to set up CPAM public coverage. URSSAF takes care of setting up the account to which income is declared and social charges paid.

The French tax office’s recent announcement that property owners now have to complete an extra filing about their holdings took me by surprise because I first got the information from a client who reads The Local France, an expat website: .

I did some research and found the information issued by the French administration, the most reliable source. Since January 1st, 2023, all owners of French real estate have had until July 1st, 2023, to submit a report on how the property is used. The official reason is simply that the administration wants an improved picture of the usage of French real estate. But I can see that how a property is used can indicate discrepancies in the income declared to France (or the lack of it). It can also show if it is used for Airbnb, facilitating checks on whether the rental meets the French legal requirements and how many non-residents foreigners use the place. I won’t try to read from these observations what the next step might be, aside from these basic legal and fiscal issues.

Here is a partial translation of the message found on the official website.

This new obligation is carried out through the online service available on in your personal space under the “Real estate” tab [“Biens immobiliers”].

The following information must be provided by July 23rd, 2023:

How the premises are occupied (by you or tenants).
Whether it is a main residence, a secondary residence, rented, occupied free of charge, or unfurnished and unoccupied.

Who the tenants are (for a private individual: last name, given name, date of birth, place of birth; for a corporation: name of the manager, SIREN).

When it is used by the owners (beginning and end of the period of occupation).

In the case of seasonal rentals: when it is rented and who manages the property (either the owner or, if it is professionally managed, the manager’s SIREN or that of the owner if applicable).

The amount of the monthly rent (optional).

Gathering this information will help the administration calculate the habitation tax on secondary residences, the tax on vacant premises (TLV) and the housing tax on vacant accommodation (THLV).

This is a mandatory declaration (article 1770 terdecies of the CGI). Failure to declare will result in fines of 150€ per premise.

This topic is also addressed in the second Q&A of this column.

Best regards,


The energy classification for residential properties runs from excellent heat and noise insulation (A) to horrible (G). It is like grading in the school system. Yes, you should pay a lot of attention to this.
In the last 25 years or so, France has increasingly added requirements to protect, first, people buying real estate and, second, tenants holding a lease. One protection involves disclosing more and more information about the place. The result is that today one gets a standardized report that is close to what a surveyor would give you. Testing of energy performance (diagnostic de performance énergétique or DPE) became mandatory on November 1st, 2006. The process of adding these requirements has been slow. It is driven by energy costs, environmental needs and growing concern for people’s comfort.
Since January 1st, 2023, it has been illegal to rent out housing units known as “energy sieves” or “heat sieves” (passoires énergétiques or thermiques), those rated F or G. This measure applies to new rental contracts signed on or after that date.
The top threshold for final energy consumption of a dwelling is 450 kWh per square meter for metropolitan France.
The decree containing this regulation is dated January 13th, 2021. That shows something very French: legislation can be implemented years after being enacted.
You also ask about GHG, which stands for “greenhouse gas” and has to do with measuring of the carbon imprint. It is not mandatory and therefore is purely informative.
Given that the current legislation contains provisions for even stricter norms up to 2028, the energy rating has some direct influence on a bank’s decision whether to grant a loan, or on its amount or duration. There is reason to believe the French government will continue tightening the standards even after 2028. A bad DPE influences a property’s market value. Mortgage durations are usually 10 to 20 years.
You can always renovate and thus significantly improve the insulation quality and thus the DPE. But bear in mind that people are already complaining about the fact that century-old houses can offer good comfort once they have modern doors, windows and roof insulation, but there are doubts as to whether they will continue to score well on DPE tests. The large thickness of the walls of the very old houses offers some very good protection but those houses have a hard time scoring well on DPE tests. Many real estate agents are already warning about this possibility.
As a side note, this is the answer I received from my banker when I asked the question specifically about this issue. This is the letter the client must sign when they ask for a loan at my bank
Dear client, 
You have applied for a loan to purchase a property. The energy performance report (DPE) included in your loan file shows a grade of less than D (either E, F or G).
We would like to point out that the feasibility study of your financing request will take into account this energy performance of the property.
We would also like to draw your attention to the new requirements regarding the characteristics of decent housing which may have a financial impact on your project (both the value of the property and its rental).
The government is gradually banning “les passoires énergétiques”, from being rented according to the following schedule*:
As of August 25th, 2022, it is no longer possible to increase the rents of housing classified as “F” and “G”
As of January 1st, 2023, housing that does not meet the new standards for decent housing, i.e., whose energy consumption estimated by the DPE is greater than 450 kWh/m2 in metropolitan France (corresponding to the “G” rating), may no longer be offered for rent (this measure applies to new rental contracts entered into as of January 1st, 2023).
Thereafter, by application of the Climate and Resilience Law, the most energy-intensive housing will be banned from being rented as follows:
From January 1st, 2025: “G” rated housing will no longer be available for rent;
As of January 1st, 2028: extension of the ban to “F” rated housing
As of January 1st, 2034: extension of the ban to “E” rated housing
In addition, in certain situations, tenants will be able to require that their landlord renovate.
Other restrictive measures will also be added:
As of April 1st, 2023, houses and buildings in single ownership** put up for sale with an energy label of F or G will have to first undergo an energy audit by a professional.
If the property is considered not to be efficient, the owner will be obliged to transmit to the future owner the list of works to be carried out so that the property is classified B at least
*According to the provisions published on 01/12/2022 and subject to subsequent changes.
**Are considered in mono properties the buildings held in their totality by a single owner
The renovation of the dwelling can be done step by step in order to reach the B label progressively or entirely.
The audit will then apply to homes classified E from January 1st, 2025, and then to homes classified D from January 1st, 2034.
We invite you to consult the national websites that inform the public of these new rules and particularly for the case of condominiums:

Moreover, our establishment has solutions adapted to finance your work aiming at improving this DPE note. In addition, we no longer take into consideration the rent received in the calculation of debt for properties classified F and G


Thanks for your message and your appreciation of my column. This declaration is for all the properties, primary and secondary residences alike. I believe that this new obligation targets more the non-French fiscal residents and indeed the use of the secondary residence.
Such non-French fiscal residents are only subject to two local taxes when they own property in France:
1. The taxe foncière, which is levied on the owner.
2. The taxe d’habitation, which is paid by whoever uses the place, normally the owner.
The first one is here to stay and could increase to compensate for the phasing out of exclusively the second one on the primary residences of French fiscal residents. Secondary residences, including vacation properties and those owned by non-French fiscal residents, are also seeing their taxe d’habitation, increase a lot to discourage the proliferation of vacation rentals like Airbnbs.
There is no certainty about how the information collected in this new declaration is going to be used. But people who rent out lodgings and do not declare the income to France, as well as those who rent illegally under French law, are going to face difficult times and would be wise to clean up their situation.
Regarding the way you visit France, I hear and respect your worry about being targeted for staying, and maybe overstaying, in France without a long-term visa. It may surprise you to know that an American citizen overstaying in France without adequate immigration status, whether for a few days or a few years, risks virtually nothing by the French police based solely on that issue. So in those terms you have little to worry about this for now.
One reason this risk is so low is that the French tax authorities are only interested in taxable income and currently tax assets almost always related to real estate. So they have no way of knowing your immigration status and they do not care. All they need to know is if you claim to be a French fiscal resident or a foreign one. I must add that the real-estate wealth tax is owed when the real-estate net worth in France reaches the amount of 1.3€ million.
I believe that the other reason is that this is the latest tool to nail illegal rentals. Since you use it for yourself, as long as you can prove you do not receive money for its use by others, nothing can happen to you. This said, think of the discrepancy that will exist if the declaration states an occupation of a few weeks per year and the utility bills show a permanent consumption all year long.
Here is another way to look at this: Your French fiscal residence starts when you spend more than six months per calendar year in France. The question in the new declaration about the length of your stay is focused on this. Under the Schengen rules, you cannot stay more than six months and so you do not risk anything. However, I recall what I wrote in the September 2022 issue about the planned European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS):
“Currently, citizens of 63 countries that are not in the European Union (EU) can enter the EU’s Schengen area without a visa. The USA is one of these countries.
“ETIAS will be a completely electronic system that allows and keeps track of visitors from these countries. It resembles the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which serves a similar purpose in the USA.
“The legal process to create ETIAS started in 2016. The system is expected to be fully operational in May 2023, but not mandatory until the following November. Currently, there is still some uncertainty regarding the timing of its implementation.
“ETIAS will make a detailed security check of each applicant to determine whether they are allowed to enter a Schengen country. This procedure applies to those who do not need a visa for travel of up to 90 days in the EU. ETIAS will gather, keep track of and update the information to make sure they are not a security threat. It will also monitor precisely who is overstaying the 90-day limit inside the Schengen area.
“People who are applying for or renewing an immigration status do not need to request ETIAS.

Since that was written, full implementation has been delayed once more, to 2024. Should you then stay illegally in France, you could have some serious problems.

Also note that Americans in France can get away with holding the visiteur immigration status and not declare their income to France. The prefecture does not enforce French fiscal rules on them, unlike other nationalities.

I hope that clarifies the issue. People should pay attention to the regulations on ETIAS and online declaration of property use, especially as the former is likely to be implemented not long after the latter. This could change the lives of a lot of people who live “under the radar.”


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