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Fri 12 Apr 2013 11:33 AM

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What’s so good about France?

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

What’s so good about France?
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.

John Harte 6 years ago

You didn't ask why Arabs would like to live in France......or are the answers too uncomfortable for your magazine?

Angelika Lancsak 6 years ago

If you have some pocket money left - opt for Monaco - no income tax and a sophisticated flair: Car or train will take you to France in 10 minutes:-))

Tarek 6 years ago

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 !

nimby 6 years ago

@ John.
Go on, give us a hint?

Ronald 6 years ago

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.

Oli69 6 years ago

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...

Anna 6 years ago

@Oli, I wonder where you got your knowledge from H for Holland is wrong. I think you make a mistake: first of all Holland is not a country - it is the Netherlands. It is the same mistake if you think that Dubai is a country. Holland is just the "Emirate".
And being a Dutch citizen I can tell that the Netherlands is not in crisis at all compared to Hungary - yes! that is what the H stands for. Oh and Dutch does not mean we are from Germany, that is Deutchland in German language. People from the Netherlands are Dutch citizens. And we are not from Holland.

tony 6 years ago

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!

tony 6 years ago

@Anna, I miss the coffee shops :D

PKK 6 years ago

I disagree , France is a nice country and few countries can match its cuisine and history. I agree, French can be arrogant but isn't that true about UAE as well? Also, a bit funny that you put France and Holland in the same 'boat' as Spain and Italy. I agree, population is ageing but than you know what to expect in the UAE within 20-30 years, right