Je m'excuse: Andy Street © Bloomberg
France is economically doomed and no place for an entrepreneur. “Nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.” If this is what Andy Street is like at a public engagement, just imagine how dreary he’d be on a home counties golf course. It’s like being bashed around the head with a ringbinder full of Economist back issues.
Piqued by a bad Eurostar journey, the managing director of the leading UK retailer John Lewis morphed into John Bull at an awards event for start-ups in London on Wednesday. Such events can have an aphrodisiac effect on middle-aged executives running staid businesses. But what has John Lewis done recently to give it the right to appropriate the rock star smugness exhibited by many modern entrepreneurs?
Seen from outside France, the country’s “cultural exception” – which protects its art, music and movie industries in trade negotiations – is like a long-running film franchise.
In the new sequel – Exception Culturelle 3D, if you will – Pierre Lescure, author of a government-commissioned report, has given the story a great new twist by suggesting a tax on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and e-readers to fund French cultural output.
French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg told: "How stupid do you think we are?" Getty Images
French Socialists and American chief executives make awkward bedfellows at the best of times. Just how awkward is evident from the extraordinary letter Maurice “Morry” M. Taylor – nicknamed “The Grizz” for his uncompromising negotiating style – sent to Arnaud Montebourg, France’s industry minister.
“How stupid do you think we are?” was Mr Taylor’s response to Mr Montebourg’s attempt to find out if Titan, the tyremaker Mr Taylor heads, would take over part of Goodyear’s factory in Amiens. Earlier efforts by Goodyear to forge a deal with Titan foundered on union opposition, which has not endeared French workers to the Titan CEO, who claims they “get paid high wages but work only three hours”.
Gerard Depardieu gives a thumbs up to Belgium. Getty Images
Every time they heard about a disaster in another part of the world, the parents of Belgian friends used to intone: “Qu’on est bien en Belgique” – roughly, “How lucky we are to live in Belgium.”
French (or, perhaps more precisely, French-born) actor Gérard Depardieu may be thinking along similar lines, given his threat this weekend to give up his passport and take up residence in the village of Néchin in Belgium. “I’m leaving,” he wrote, in an open letter to Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French prime minister, “because you consider that success, creativity and talent… must be sanctioned” – a clear protest about rising tax rates in the country of his birth. Earlier this year, France’s richest man Bernard Arnault applied for Belgian citizenship, though he said he was seeking dual Belgian-French nationality and would continue to be tax-resident in France.
I’ve lived in Belgium and it has plenty going for it, including the usual cliché attractions of beer, chocolate, mussels and Tintin, but low personal tax rates never seemed to be one of the benefits of residency.