Petty Cash

This is dumb:


The convention has always been that EU countries do not charge citizens of other EU countries for any registration or regularisation process, nor do they charge for visas and residency cards for non-EU spouses of EU citizens. I expect this was done because the marginal cost of waiving the fees is vastly outweighed by not having millions of people bitching about having to pay to exercise their rights under EU law.

With Britain set to leave the EU, the Home Office needs to come up with a way of regularising the presence of approximately 3m EU citizens who currently have a right to be there. A simple registration process is the best way to go about it – sorry, mass deportations are not going to happen – and it is in everyone’s interests to make this as painless as possible. Imposing a £65 charge was stupid to begin with, and scrapping it the most sensible thing to do: it would cause far more resentment than it’s worth, and £200m is chump-change considering half the country seem happy to hand over £39bn without so much as a parliamentary debate. It comes across as petty and vindictive, and makes for very bad politics.

France has advised all British citizens to apply for a residency permit within 1 year of March 29th, and is not charging them a processing fee. From what I’ve seen, their approach has been calm, measured, and sensible. Perhaps some Frenchmen have taken to Twitter demanding Brits be charged 65 euros for the trouble, but if so I’ve not seen them. Unlike certain Brits, I don’t think the average Frenchman is interested in punishing foreigners for being caught up in political events outside their control.

Yesterday I submitted my documents on the second attempt, and at least this time it was successful. It wasn’t without complications, though. Firstly, I got a different fonctionnaire, so of course the required list of documents changed. Fortunately, I’d brought “spare” documents with me just for this eventuality, and two of them were needed. Secondly, when I handed over my income tax statements – which are not on any list, but nevertheless a requirement – I was told they were incomplete. I opened up the French tax website, logged into my account, and showed her exactly what was available for me to print. She looked blank and said “normally there are several pages” and “I need the one they sent to your home”. I said I don’t receive paper copies, I’d opted for the electronic version only and this is all I have. So she processed my application, gave me the receipt, but told me I had to come back with my proper tax statements which I could get from a building over the road. Fortunately Annecy is small, and everything beside each other.

I crossed the road, bracing myself for a battle with bureaucrats in the tax office; the prefecture closed in half an hour, and I had no appetite for coming back another day. I spoke to the lady at reception and explained everything, and she said “Oh yes, there’s a room over there where you can log in and print it out.” To my astonishment, there was: a room with two or three computers and a printer which cost nothing to use. I logged into the tax website and discovered that while everything else was identical, there were more pages to my tax statements when going through their own system. Weird, but I didn’t care: I printed everything off, crossed the road back to the prefecture, and handed them in at the counter I’d been sat at 15 minutes before. Job done, I think.

Everything in France is either insanely complicated or surprisingly easy and you have no idea which it will be until you try it. This was a mixture of both, but at least they didn’t charge me. Britain shouldn’t charge EU citizens either.

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Pas de surprise

I have just returned from the local prefecture to request my French residency card. It went pretty much as I expected, having had experience with French prefectures before. Having waited for 3 hours I arrived at the counter to find the list of required documents the fonctionnaire was using was different from the one displayed on the prefecture’s website, and different from the one the French national government issued with Brexit approaching. The one in use at my local prefecture is dated December 2016.

So now I need to get my birth certificate translated, which is no big deal but it takes time, costs money, and isn’t actually required by law. But if the person behind the counter says it is, that’s all there is to it. I also have to produce proof that I have been in France for 5 years. The requirement is you can show a document which covers each 6 month period of your stay. I presented bills and other documents covering the period, but most bills in France are annual, not bi-annual. So I had plenty of documents showing I’d been in France from January 2014 to January 2015 and January 2015 to January 2016, but my application was rejected because I had no bills from July 2014 and July 2015. I explained I didn’t receive any bills in that month and she said, “Oh, maybe you have a medical certificate or something?” Presumably Frenchmen use suppositories on such a regular basis they have a doctor’s bill for each month of the year, but I’m now going to have to scrabble around for something which says I was in France in successive Julys of my stay. I was then asked for my tax bills, which don’t even appear on the fonctionnaire’s list; I have no idea where that demand came from.

This is how it works in the prefectures. You turn up with everything you think you need and wait an age, then you discover what you actually need. Then you come back and hope you got it right the second time. Under French law it is actually not allowed to refuse the application of an EU citizen on the grounds a supporting document is missing; they are compelled to accept it, and the applicant brings the missing document later. But prefectures don’t follow French law, and they have no incentive to: if you feel your rights have been breached you may claim compensation through the courts, but the maximum you can receive is less than what it costs to hire a lawyer. Handy, eh?

We’re going to hear a lot of sob-stories from Brits battling with prefectures over the coming months, the blame for which will be placed squarely at the feet of Brexit. But for me, as I described here, Brits are denied their rights under EU law anyway by fonctionnaires who don’t know EU law nor even care. As I said to the EU representative during my last encounter with a prefecture when the Brexit referendum was looming, if our rights under the EU are not recognised when it matters, we’re better off out. And here we are.

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Assurance française

So this is how screwed up insurance is in France. I bought my car insurance through BNP Paribas, and like all good insurance sellers they increase the premiums each year hoping you won’t notice. If you do notice and query it, they shrug their shoulders and say “that’s just the market”. Sometimes they’ll even throw in some nonsense such as “but there have been more thefts this year”, as if the doozy you’re talking to would know that.

Anyway, after 4 years of this I got fed up and decided to change. Changing insurance companies in France is rather difficult, made deliberately so by the insurance companies. It has got a bit easier recently thanks to the Hamon Law which aimed at doing away with anti-competitive practices. However, it’s still not straight forward. When you sign up with the new company they contact your old company and cancel your agreement with them, but they then ask you to obtain two documents from your old company:

– An information statement listing any accidents the driver’s had while insured, or lack thereof.

– Confirmation the insurance has been cancelled, or the reason why the request was refused.

I immediately asked for these from my previous insurer, who didn’t bother replying. I asked BNP Paribas, who shrugged their shoulders. I dug around and found that unless you send the request by recorded delivery, the insurance companies refuse to comply. I also found out BNP contracts their insurance to an outfit called AVANSSUR, a subsidiary of Axa, whose address is at 48 Rue Carnot. My new insurance company – Direct Assurance – told me I should ask them for my documents, and they have a legal obligation to provide them within 15 days. Unless they come tomorrow, which is unlikely, I will not be getting them in that time period. So I went to advise Direct Assurance that I’m having no luck getting these documents, and somehow I discover they are also a subsidiary of Axa, their address is 48 Rue Carnot, and:

AVANSSUR is a subsidiary of AXA that operates under the Direct Assurance brand.

In other words, I’ve saved myself 30% on my insurance by switching contracts within the same company and I’m waiting for them to send me documents which they are asking to see. What makes it more amusing is that, in order for the new company to cancel your contract with the old one, you give them the policy number and all the details. So they know they’re dealing with themselves, but I’m still getting emails reminding me I’ve not sent my documents and advising I write to them tout de suite.

Welcome to France. Happy New Year, folks!

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One rule for thee…

Back in the early 2000s, Italy, Portugal, and Greece were being chastised and threatened with fines by the European Commission for breaking the Stability and Growth Pact, which aimed to limit the fiscal deficit of member states’ budget to 3% of GDP. Then something happened around 2001 which caused the French and Germans to blow their budgets and go on a borrowing spree, and all of a sudden the Stability and Growth Pact didn’t matter (see this chart for historical deficits). It became quite obvious that EU rules are only to be enforced against certain countries, and exceptions made when it came to France and Germany; those less charitable thought it quite obvious that the EU was run for the primary benefit of those two member states.

Fast forward 17 years and we had the European Commission refusing to approve Italy’s budget because it breaks the Stability and Growth Pact. Then a short time later French president Emmanuel Macron, with his back to the wall facing the might of the gilets jaunes, decided to throw an €8bn – €10bn bung at them in the hope of saving his presidency. France’s budget was already perilously close to the 3% limit, and this pushed it over the edge. So the European Commission is going to take action, right?

Heh:

The EU will accept a French budget deficit above the EU’s 3 percent ceiling in 2018 “as a one-time exception,” Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in an interview published Thursday.

Now there’s a surprise, eh? If you follow the link and translate from the German, you find out why:

President Macron has lost authority with his budget for 2019, which exceeds the deficit limit of three percent. But he remains a strong supporter of the European Union.

Of course. The rules don’t matter provided you are France or Germany and you are a strong supporter of the EU. What a wonderful club. I can’t think why Britain voted to leave.

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Rule by technocrat

This is a good article on France, Macron, and the yellow vest movement, in particular:

Whether on the Right, center or Left, French politicians and senior government officials are an astonishingly homogenous bunch. Almost all of them have studied at the grandes écoles like the École Nationale d’Administration. These institutions serve to furnish a group of highly educated individuals. Commonly referred to as “les énarques,” they rotate between elected office, the private sector, and the state bureaucracy, thereby ostensibly lending stability to France’s notoriously cantankerous politics.

These schools produce well-trained technocrats furnished with the mindset that their primary responsibility in life is to serve the state. This is a very different attitude to that which prevails among graduates of most top-level American universities. But the grandes écoles also facilitate a monolithic outlook, an absence of creative thought, and unhealthy patronage networks.

In more recent times, these dispositions have been accompanied by a habit of embracing pretty much every politically correct nostrum. These range from gender ideology (something which infuriates large swathes of French public opinion, and not just on the Right) to environmentalism as a pseudo-religion. This has exacerbated the already huge gap between the viewpoint, life experiences, and priorities of people like Macron—whose personal career path epitomizes the énarque—and most other French people, especially the France of the provinces.

Anyone’s who worked in a company whose upper management are dominated by the graduates of the grandes écoles will relate to that passage. See also here.

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‘Tis the season to be murdered

This is a surprise, eh?

France has issued a maximum level of alert as police hunt a gunman who opened fire at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Three people were killed and 13 wounded, eight of them seriously.

People being attacked by a murderous lunatic at a Christmas market in Europe? This is becoming as much a tradition as mince pies, carol singing, and bad jumpers. And wait, we’re not done with the surprises just yet:

The gunman, 29, known to authorities as a suspected extremist, escaped after reportedly being injured.

Of course he was also known to authorities, they don’t like to be caught with their pants down chasing an unknown terrorist. That would be embarrassing. Can we assume the “suspected” modifier will now be removed from his file?

Some 350 officers are involved in the search for the gunman.

There was a time when murderers on the run had their name and photo distributed across the lands to aid their capture. Now their names are withheld from the public in case the earth’s rotation is disturbed by the simultaneous eye-rolling of a hundred million people.

A picture is beginning to emerge of the suspected attacker, although a motive is still not known.

And may never be known. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before.

BFM TV described him as a “repeat offender” and “delinquent”, adding he was part of known extremist networks in the city.

So there are “known extremist networks” in Strasbourg? That’s comforting news. Do the authorities intend to do anything about them any time soon? If this statement from the president of the European Parliament is any guide, I’ll not be holding my breath:


Yes, “let us move” on even though the gunman has yet to be caught and the victims’ bodies are still warm. Naturally the Parliament won’t be intimidated by terrorist attacks because the elites inside are protected by armed guards. But the rest of “us”? Well, best stay away from provocative Christmas markets, eh?

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Macron’s mess

Twitter was rather lively over the weekend concerning photos and videos emerging from the latest round of riots in Paris in which armoured personnel carriers bearing the EU flag are seen rumbling through the streets towards unarmed protesters:


Now various people popped up to say this isn’t really a big deal because the vehicles aren’t really part of an EU authority, and even if they are it’s not really related to the EU because reasons, and for all I know they may be right. But one has to wonder just how tin-eared Macron and his cabinet are to put these vehicles onto the streets bearing that flag at a time like this. Macron was only recently calling for an EU army, and as I said some time ago the first deployment of any such body will likely be against the unarmed citizens of an EU member state. Optics matter, and previous French presidents would have known not to be as cack-handed as this. Macron not only appears incompetent, but more isolated from the country he governs with each passing day.

I read this morning that Macron now intends to sit with union leaders to discuss the crisis. These are presumably the same unions who fully backed the Paris climate change agreement which brought about the fuel tax hikes in the first place*. My guess is he’s talking to them because nobody else has put themselves forward.

*In my last place of work, the white-collar unions were passing around flyers protesting the acquisition of a rival oil company because it was incompatible with global commitments to reduce fossil fuel use and tackle climate change. Yes, the unions were more interested in supranational vanity projects than securing long-term employment for their members.

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An untypical protest

Heh:

France’s PM has announced a six-month suspension of a fuel tax rise which has led to weeks of violent protests.

Edouard Philippe said that people’s anger must be heard, and the measures would not be applied until there had been proper debate with those affected.

Good work, comrades.

The difficulty for Emmanuel Macron is that this is exactly the kind of capitulation to the street that he has vowed to stop. There will be no change of direction, he repeats to all who will hear, because that would only store up worse problems for the future.

The thing is – and I defy you to show me a British newspaper that makes this distinction – the French public were ready to accept reforms to the labour laws of the sort that traditionally bring the unions onto the streets. In fact, Macron did push through such reforms and the unions did strike, and the public refused to back the strikers. I remember all the complaining about the disruption to SNCF services when I was working in Paris, but the majority knew major reforms are necessary. What they clearly don’t support is their foppish president sacrificing the living standards of ordinary people on the altar of environmental hysteria. Most commentators will say this was a typical French uprising against reform and modernisation – plus ça change – but it wasn’t.

Macron had all the goodwill he could have wished for from a population who wanted to change; instead he chose to hit them hardest on a vanity project. That should be the story here.

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A tale of two protests

While I was wandering around the centre of Annecy on Saturday I came across a parade of the gilets jaunes – yellow vests – protesting Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike. It was very peaceful, mostly middle aged folk carrying the flag of the Haute Savoie region accompanied by a couple of gendarmes who didn’t look as though they expected trouble. Those marching stopped to natter to locals they passed on the way.

This was in stark contrast to the scenes in Paris over the weekend where cars were tipped over and set on fire, monuments defaced, and shops looted. Judging by the Arabic and anarchist graffiti on display my guess is the yellow vest protest in the capital has been hijacked by the usual troublemakers. In other words, what is going on in Paris isn’t representative of what is happening everywhere else. This is the case for most things in France.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Macron uses the violence in Paris to smear the entire movement. If he does, the division between the capital and the countryside will grow even larger. That won’t be good for anyone.

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Enough is enough

It’s not surprising people are turning to violence:

What began as protests over President Macron’s fuel tax has transformed into general anger at high living costs.

Mr Macron says his fuel policies are needed to combat global warming.

So global warming is an existential threat, is it? Okay, but:

France is heavily dependent on nuclear power, which Mr Macron pledged to reduce to 50% of the national energy mix by 2035 by closing 14 of the country’s 58 reactors.

If global warming is really going to kill us all within decades, the problem of nuclear waste disposal and fear of accidents would seem rather small indeed. That politicians are closing nuclear power stations is proof that even they don’t believe global warming is an existential threat, or even a serious one.

That is on top of the closure of all four of France’s remaining coal-fired power plants and investment of billions of euros into renewable energy.

And that’s what this is all about: elites in government making life more expensive for the ordinary citizen so they can virtue-signal to other elites and the wealthy, middle-class idiots who support them. Like I said, no wonder people are turning violent. I’m amazed it’s taken this long.

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