The recent World Investment Conference (WIC) in La Baule, France hosted a series of workshops with panels composed of global business chiefs, academics, investors and political leaders, resulting in a series of recommendations for European governments.
This collaborative approach sought solutions to ensure that European countries remain competitive and continue to be highly attractive to investors. There was a general consensus that recommendations should not only be made in response to the current economic and social climate, but also be born out of foresight and predictions of conditions in the future.
The suggestions, which sometimes amounted to impassioned pleas, included a request to create a business environment that would be more conducive to apprenticeships in France. Calls to streamline bureaucracy for small businesses in France have already been answered, so it is hoped that this latest request will also be recognized and responded to quickly. As conference attendee Clara Gaymard, City Initiative Global Leader & President & CEO of General Electric (GE) France, pointed out “10 years ago, France was not seen as an enterprising country, but the fact is that today France has the most start-ups in Europe because the business environment has provided the opportunities for these companies to be created.”
Other recommendations for Europe included centralizing bureaucracy for SMEs and changing the culture of public-private partnerships to improve mutual trust. This would consequently help France for example to compete better with China in the speed of getting such projects underway – it takes around two months in China, compared with at least 18 in France, as Marc Duval-Destin, VP Automotive Research and Advanced Engineering for PSA Peugeot Citroën pointed out at the conference.
Another recommendation made was to centralize the promotion of innovation clusters in Europe and their attractiveness to foreign investors. Prof. Delphine Manceau of the Institute of Innovation and Competitiveness said “Competitiveness in European countries is based on innovation in a world where it is difficult to compete on cost and price, so the way to stimulate employment and build competitiveness today is to innovate. France has really benefited from its strong innovation clusters policy”. It is also hoped that Europe as a whole can mimic France in benefiting from cluster promotion. As David Appia, Chairman and CEO of the Invest in France Agency asserted “Promotion on a national and European level is equally important.”
One overriding question that came out of the WIC workshops was why Europe as a whole shouldn’t have a research tax credit and the funding for innovation that France already enjoys. The general consensus was that these are major factors in attracting big business to invest in the country, making France a global model in encouraging investment. Regarding GE’s investment program, Ms. Gaymard pointed out “The tax environment in France is much better than it was before and of course this has had a direct impact on GE’s strategy.”
GE is investing €45 million in signaling and public transport in France, as well as in research, healthcare and hundreds of new staff for their engineering center. “We believe in France, we invest in France, we believe in research and development in France”, added Ms. Gaymard.