What’s so good about France?

Anil Bhoyrul on why 44% of Arab youths choose France as their preferred country other than home

Anil Bhoyrul

Anil Bhoyrul

Like any good survey, the 2013 ASDA’A Burson-Marstellar Arab Youth Survey raises more questions than answers. Finding out the opinions, fears, worries and hopes of the Arab youth is not only fascinating but essential, and it’s why we have devoted a large chunk of this week’s magazine to the topic.

First the good news: the headline finding of this survey is that the Arab youth generally feel “their best days are ahead of them.” Amidst so much conflict and strife, it is wonderful to see the optimism of the region’s youth. So much so, even HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, took time to tweet this (and the equally impressive fact that the UAE is seen a role model nation).

But delve deeper and you find the questions that I am not sure anyone has answers to. One in particular: when asked which country outside the MENA region they (Arab youths) see as most favourable, France scored 44%. It came top. Just as it did last year.

Put another way, given the choice, most youths in the Arab world would like to live in the UAE. But if they had to live somewhere outside the Arab world, they would pick France.  Only 32% fancy the UK (compared to 43 percent two years ago), and just 30 percent think Obama’s America is the place to be (again, compared to 41 percent two years ago).

So France it is. Have you been there? I have, many times. Paris is in my view, the greatest city in the world. It’s well worth a visit, though make sure you leave your wallet in the hotel or it will get nicked. Anyway, I digress.

France is also arguably the welfare capital of the world next to Scandinavia's Sweden, Denmark and Norway, where many people pay 50 percent of their income in taxes.  The very first article in the French Code of Social Security is about social protection. France has been doing this for years, with even Napoleon III getting in on the act by creating the foundations for a welfare system. Today, France leads the way when it comes to free healthcare, generous pensions, free education, family insurance and unemployment insurance (that often sees anyone losing their job able to continue receiving 35 percent of their previous salary).

On the face of it, this all sounds very attractive. Governments in this part of the world, some of whom already employ a credible welfare system of sorts, may be tempted to look at this as the answer to all questions: let’s all be more like France, after all, that’s where all our youth seem to want to live.

That would of course, be a huge mistake. France's rigid labour laws make it hugely uncompetitive. The labour costs per hour are $44, that’s 13 percent more than for example Germany. These costs have risen 19 percent in the last decade while most countries in the euro zone has seen their costs remain the same. It all helps explain why French companies have seen their operating margins shrink by 40 percent in the last decade. It explains why France will be lucky to see 0.4 percent GDP growth this year, and why the country is staring at an unemployment rate of over 10 percent.

Personally, I believe in some of the fundamental principles of the welfare system, particularly in health and education. If I didn’t get the free university education I did 30 years ago, I could have never afforded to pay for one. I can fully see, why from the outside, France is so highly regarded. But it is also an example of what happens when you get the balance so horribly wrong.

Anil Bhoyrul is the Editorial Director of Arabian Business.

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Posted by: Steven

In the article, which is very factual and being British, but having lived and worked in France and now call my home Italy after the Gulf - many a true word on the economic system of the FISH countries. cannot speak for Holland but ahve also lived and worked in Spain and that really is a 'basket case'.
Again a good article and it's a pity the politicians don't read where they go wrong!
One last item, you did mention to leave your wallet at home in Paris or it will get nicked' - and who might these thieves be, may I ask? Is is possibly the same race who robbed a friend of mine in Rabat City two weeks ago, as he took his wallet out to pay a taxi driver 'tut' 'tut' 'tut' - cannot be racist can one!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: tony

What a great article. So many facts in there. Wow, absolutely great job Arabian Business. You are articles are much better than the articles that were published in our school paper!

Posted by: james t

@ tony


Posted by: Oli69

Honestly, I fail to understand what is so good about France. Apart from the beauty of the country and in particular Paris, there is little else I would save (maybe just the camembert and the foie gras).. The people are known to be arrogant, fashion and food (and wine!) are second to many other countries, especially Italy.. The level of service in their hotels/tourist establishments is aweful. There is a widespread racism and social inequalities. Their economy is going down the pits, no wonder they are now part of the FISH (france, italy, spain, holland) european economies in need of help. Their welfare system is proving to be a failure. The effects of it are starting to be seen, as their ageing population is not being backed by a growing young workforce able to pay for their pensioners. Same thing in Italy. The young pick up the tab, and have little to look forward to for their own future.. The Old Continent is not old for any reason...

Posted by: Hisham

@Oli69 regardless of the country's name, I think Anna is right on the other part. I have read the article, it contradicts all rating agencies (The Netherlands and Germany are the only triple A rated countries in the EU) and other known economic forecasts. The country has a budgetary deficit, but the Dutch have proved geniuses at fixing budgetary issues in previous crises. The article focuses a lot on mortgages, which are indeed higher than average and infrastructure, which is some of the best in the world. The underlying reason for mortgaging however is that they have a tax system that makes it more interesting to mortgage than own (mortgage interest deduction, lower property tax). Apparently the people at FT don't know this. Combined with the highest per household savings in the world and the social support structure, you will never see large numbers of defaults and foreclosures like in the US. They are definitely not in the same boat as the FIS or PIGS.

Posted by: Oli69

To all that commented the FISH economies. I do not take the credit for this acronym, but much more experienced and wise economists: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/851277b2-76a2-11e2-ac91-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2QRVUivUG
Giving me a lecture on how nationals of the Netherlands are called is quite funny actually, considering I lived in every country mentioned in these posts. (ah, and I do miss the coffee shops in Vaal as well..) .

Posted by: MonkeyTennis

@Anna - like it or not but he's right - financial markets traders refer to FISH - France, Italy, Spain and Holland. The H is because your country is commonly, if incorrectly, referred to as Holland by English-speakers. If the correct name were used it would ruin an easy to remember acronym, as it would be if Spain was spelt the Spanish way and started with an E. The FISH grouping refers to countries where longer term underlying infrastructure and competitiveness issues are seen as key concerns not those curerntly in crisis.

Posted by: Ronald

This survey is entirely subjective and deliberately skewed to please the rulers of the UAE, the bread and butter of this agency. There is nothing scientific about the methodology, and the sample audience is hardly representative. Most of the respondents have probably been to France as rich holiday makers or sponsored students, which means they have a complete bias. Try living in a Muslim neighbourhood in Paris, and see how the numbers change.

Posted by: Tarek

Arab youth prefer France for purely post colonial reasons, I bet you that 95% of those who said they prefer France are from the Arabic Maghrib Countries or Lebanon. In those countries they have this absurd attachement to everything French !

Posted by: Hisham

As a Moroccan I can confirm this is true for those who have never lived there. Those who have grow to despise the French attitude towards Arabs and their constantly present sense of superiority. But this is a trend seen in many countries which have once been colonized, including Gulf countries which tend to see Brits as more knowledgable and British things as desirable. It must be some sort of a twist on the Stockholm syndrome. Hopefully we will see a day in which one of the points highlighted in the survey, Arab pride, will replace this misplaced sense of inferiority towards Westerners.

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