Brexit: what does it mean for France and the British expats living there?
Months after the Brexit vote, the dust is only just settling on the situation in Britain. But what are the implications for our closest neighbour France? And what will happen to the thousands of British expats who live there?
Britain is yet to initiate the move out of the EU and speculation is still the order of the day. Three months on, here’s what we know so far on five key questions.
Does Brexit spell Frexit?
After the Brexit vote, commentators were quick to foresee a whole new wave of EU ‘exit’ suffixes like Spexit (Spain), Itexit (Italy) and Frexit (France).
Across the political spectrum, French parties have taken to flirting with ideas of a French referendum on the EU. Socialist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon wrote on his Facebook account: “We either change the European Union, or we leave it”.
However, as Laurent Bouvet of Versailles University suggested to the Financial Times, this kind of Eurosceptic posturing could be a symptom of what he calls ‘Cameron Syndrome’. A paradoxical epidemic whereby French politicians have to appeal to anti-EU tendencies to gain votes, while wishing David Cameron never allowed the vote to happen in the first place. In the event of a French in-out referendum, polls suggest a close result. In a 2016 Pew Research study, 61% of French people said they were unfavourable to the institution, up from 44% in 2015.
But the French can have complaints about the EU without actually wanting to leave it. The same study found 61% also believe leaving would have negative consequences. Marianne Campanella, a teacher in Paris, says: “French people are attached to Europe, but a different Europe. We don’t want to leave but we do want to change it”.
Is this a win for the Front National?
It’s no secret that Front National presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen is happy about Brexit, tweeting “victoire de la liberté” on the day of the results. High dissatisfaction with the EU, and now an example to follow, means the Eurosceptic party surely has their best opportunity yet at winning the national election in spring.
However, some key differences between the French and British political situation may block Le Pen’s ambitions. While the British public largely cast their vote along ideological lines, with the political Right voting leave and the Left voting remain, France is less clear-cut on the issue.
Those on the Left in France are almost as likely to vote to leave the EU as those on the Right. This spread of opinion makes it less likely that ‘pro-Frexit’ supporters will rally around the far-right Front National party.
What will happen to British expats?
Without EU citizenship the rights of UK migrants in France, and French residents in Britain, largely depend on whether the two countries can strike a favourable deal.
The 1969 Vienna Convention may protect residence rights, but things such as access to benefits, healthcare and pensions in France will need renegotiation.
If “wait and see” isn’t an option you want to chance on, there are steps you can take in the meantime. If you’ve been declaring taxes in France for over five years you can apply for French nationality or permanent European residency.
It may also be wise to change your driving licence to a French one as UK licenses could cease to be legal in France. These are just some of the implications for British expats; you can find more advice and predictions here.
Given these new insecurities, you might think that Britons would be put off trying to settle in France. A poll taken by Leggett Immobilier soon after the Brexit result found that 50% of clients were now planning to move permanently to the country, up from 38% in 2015. Rather than an exodus from France, Brexit may be the push some needed to realise their dream of living in France.
What effect will Brexit have on France’s economy?
Britain and France’s economies are connected by a deep and sometimes fractious relationship; Britain’s exit from the EU can’t help but affect France.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) predicts lower than expected growth for France, in the short-term at least, as uncertainty in the market reduces investments across Europe and a weaker pound afflicts French exports. France’s wine industry has already seen a slump following Brexit.
However, France’s relatively ‘closed’ economy compared to neighbouring countries protects it from the worst impacts; exports to the UK only constitute 2% of GDP (Gross domestic product) compared to almost 7% in Belgium.
What kind of crazy entrepreneur would want to set up his office in such a hell of red tape and taxes…
There’s also talk of whether France’s financial industry will benefit from Brexit. The City of London has enjoyed a position as the European financial services hub and dominant centre for trading the euro. Now its financial position is uncertain, businesses like JPMorgan have warned of job relocations to mainland Europe.
Early speculation tipped Paris as its successor; but while the closed nature of the French system protects it from Brexit fallout, it has cost it the title as financial capital.
Marc Touati, head of ACDEFI explained to Le Figaro: “What kind of crazy entrepreneur would want to set up his office in such a hell of red tape and taxes…” Frankfurt is instead looking like the winner should companies choose to move.
But it’s not all bad news for France; in a survey of financial institutions, over two thirds still believe that Paris will see some benefits from Brexit.
If Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that even the most expert predictions can be wrong. We’ve seen how France can both gain and lose from the situation, it must now find a way to use the momentum from Brexit as an opportunity, whether that’s to reshape the EU from inside or to go it alone.
What’s your view? Is Brexit good or bad news for France? Are you an expat in Britain or France? Start the debate in the comments box below!
1. ‘Brexit/EU scrabble’ Jeff Djevdet, via Flickr
2. ‘Frexit’, Will_Cyclist via Flickr.
3. ‘Meeting 1er Mai 2012 Front National’, Blandine Le Cain via Flickr.
4. ‘British expats in France’, baptiste_heschung via Pixabay.
5. ‘La Defense’, Jean-François Gornet via Wikimedia.