French News in English 

Published by France Now Association

Editor: Arvind Ashta

Editorial Committee:

W. W. Strangmeyer,

Emmanuelle Ashta




(French news in English)

November 1999, Monthly, Issue No. 31

(Only highlighted issues available for on-line consultation)

This month in search of an identity

Maurice Papon (80 years old) gives French police a run for its money

Laetitia Casta as Marianne

Nobel Peace Prize to Médecins sans Frontières

The National Consultative Committee for Ethics (NCCE)

Intra-Europe bilateral co-operation : The Franco-German University

Stimulating researchers to innovate their inventions


Helping victims of penal offences

The tax on cars and the automobile profile of France


The 35-hour week hots up

DASA merges with Matra-Aerospatiale

Futuroscope sold to Americans


The National Consultative Committee for Ethics (NCCE)


Ethics - A study of what is morally right and what is not.

When I learnt that there was a National Ethics Consultative Committee, I wondered what it did. Did it decide what is morally good and bad for the nation? National morals! Then I discovered that it was not national ethics but the Committee which was national. Moreover, it was a consultative committee because it could not make decisions, but only provide opinions and recommendations based on which the legislator could take action.

But still: does one need a national committee to study what is right and what is not? Is life so complicated?

Apparently, yes. Because the committee does not go into mundane issues. It deals with complicated scientific matters in the disciplines of Health and Life Sciences. In fact the full name of the NCCE is the National Consultative Committee for Ethics in Health and Life Sciences. It was established in 1983. Its functioning is now governed by a 1994 law. The Committee's mission is to provide opinions on ethical problems raised by progress in the fields of biology, medicine, and health, and to publish recommendations on these subjects. To date, it has published sixty-one opinions and recommendations. For example, the latest report is on Xenotransplantation (see box). Another interesting report was on Embryonic or foetal reduction (see box).

Besides a few Presidents, the Committee is composed of 39 members. Five of these members are drawn from the main philosophical and religious faiths and are designated by the President of the Republic. Nineteen members are chosen because of their qualifications, competence, and their interest in ethical issues. Fifteen members are engaged in scientific research.

Cases are investigated by the Technical Section which is composed of twelve members designated by the whole Committee on the basis of the President's suggestions: four of them are from the group of members qualified by their competence regarding ethical matters, and the remaining eight are amongst those engaged in scientific research.

But, says Jean-Pierre Changeux, an Honorary President of the NCCE, most of the representatives of ethical disciplines and religious faiths are also invariably scientific people, because the diverse organisations nominating their representatives all try to choose someone who would understand the complicated issues involved. As a result, much of the deliberation is scientific and the ethical issues are designed based on the morals of scientific researchers and not representative of society as a whole.

Intra-Europe bilateral co-operation

The Franco-German University

In a period where Europe is encouraging the free movement of people, enterprises are obviously widening their selection procedures to recruit the best candidate from all over Europe. Multilingualism and awareness of differences in culture and legal frameworks of the different member countries, especially the four large countries (Germany, UK, France and Italy), have become the key selling points of candidates. Private entrepreneurs have come in to provide education with a multilingual approach. These establishments are gaining recognition, especially because many of them are patronised by large local business houses, who ensure at least a few jobs.

The curriculum of these private academic establishments, however, escapes national homogenisation. In the name of multicultural business education, they may not provide the quality education that nationally certified institutes provide and which business houses take for granted. Political chiefs would therefore like to use this opportunity to intervene and have their say. But for the local business schools to conform to nationally or bilaterally determined criteria, they would have to receive subsidies as consideration for control. Moreover, controlling all these little establishments requires forming a centralised establishment aware of the economic and commercial needs as well as specialised in the different countries.

Till Europe's budget becomes large enough that it can intervene directly in such activities, all control has to be through bilateral co-operation. An example is the creation of the Franco-German University in September, this year.

The Franco-German University has been created in Sarrebruck. The budget of the University is funded by France and Germany. The University has been created "to promote co-operation between the two countries in Higher education and research and to benefit from economies of scale (elimination of indivisibility) in activities of common interest relating to teaching, continuing education, professional training and research, especially doctoral research. Such joint educational policies are evident in smaller Provinces of Eastern Canada. The population of each of these Provinces is too small to afford all the possible streams of education and one Provincial university could specialise in some technical subjects, while the other Province could offer the remaining subjects. Students would therefore travel to the appropriate university. However, it is far from obvious that this is the case in either France or Germany, both of which have a number of larger universities offering all possible courses of education.

Nevertheless, to meet the stated objective, the new Franco-German University is organising regular courses on its own campus. In addition, it would develop a network of other educational establishments in the two countries which could offer some or all the courses certified by it as equivalent. It would issue either two national diplomas to the students, valid in the two countries, or its own diploma which would also be valid in the two countries. This diploma could be conferred by any of the establishments in its network as long as they are certified to provide national diplomas.

It would provide financial, administrative and pedagogical assistance to establishments who become members of the Franco-German University network by providing programmes conforming to the University's criteria.

The University council includes four representatives of public administration, eight professors and researchers, four representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Exchange and of Education and four members of the economic world. This council determines the academic programmes.

Stimulating researchers to innovate their inventions

Paul Krugman's strategic trade theory is a takeoff from the infant industry argument. It says that industries should be protected to obtain first-mover advantage. Essentially, this means that the person who first gets into a field with high investments and large economies of scale, manages to develop the infrastructure of component suppliers and therefore retains leadership in manufacture. Therefore, research should be patented and transformed rapidly into patented innovation. This itself should be exploited as fast as possible to increase the dynamic comparative economies vis-à-vis other countries which would soon copy the product. Thus, protection of key technology industries is a strategic trade decision for each nation.

Add to this that most new theories of growth are endogenous in that they consider research, invention and innovation as something which can be influenced and not exogenous to the system. Many of them now focus specially on knowledge-based investment in education and research. They have stressed the need to nurture innovation, and to provide incentives for individuals to be inventive and innovative. So, they argue for subsidising education, research and development, and for providing incentives for transforming R & D into commercially viable products.

In France, the core team of researchers, includes not only the much vaunted CNRS and university researchers, but also those in other government or public sector establishments, notably telecommunications. The government is interested that researchers transform the fruits of their research into commercially viable products, which would then offer France the first-mover advantage and all the inherent dynamic strategic trade advantages. For this, it has a policy of allowing specialist researchers to move to and from research to industry and back-again. A law passed in July is meant to further ease the process of exchange of information and researchers between academia and the commercial world.

French law permits a researcher to create his own enterprise which will permit him to exploit the fruits of his research. Of course, all exchange of sensitive information and key research personnel is subject to some controls. The object of the enterprise has to be the exploitation of the research of the researcher. The research itself is owned by the establishment employing the researcher (e.g. the university). The enterprise therefore has to enter into a contract with this establishment. The researcher also has to have the necessary approval from his institute and has to stop his functions in the public sector. Actually, he does not resign. He is offered a detachment. This means that he continues to be paid by the government and cannot accept any extra remuneration from the newly created enterprise. He also maintains the possibility of coming back to the security of a safe government job. All this means that the researcher has no personal financial stress and can fully devote himself to the business of making his invention work. Of course, after the period of the detachment, the researcher has to decide whether he wants to get back to research or stay with the new enterprise after formally resigning from his government function.

The law also permits a researcher to offer technical advice to an established company which wants to pay for the researcher's discoveries. In this case also the innovating enterprise has to enter into a contract with the government or public establishment. The difference from the preceding case is that the researcher does not leave his government function. He gets additional pay from the private enterprise. To make it interesting for enterprises, the government is capping the amount the researcher can receive from the enterprises. Permission for the researcher to do this is granted for five years at a time and can be renewed.

The law also permits the researcher to take up to 15% of the capital of the enterprise which is innovating on his research. But he cannot be involved in the administration of such an enterprise and retain his public sector position.

However, if the concerned company is a public limited company, then the researcher may be on the board of directors. This is done in a bid to sensitise companies to use the fruits of the latest research. But in such a case, the researcher is not to provide any technical consulting. He can also not hold more than the minimum number of shares required to be on the board of directors. He can also not be paid for such a position (except for meeting fees).

The law states that there will be a system of transparency, supervised by an ethics committee, to look into other market contracts between the commercial enterprise and the public establishment. For example, if the director of a public establishment is hired as technical consultant for a company providing stationary to that public establishment. However, these are sensitive issues, difficult to control, especially because of the concept of controlling groups and a maze of subsidiaries.

Besides stimulating researchers to innovate, all these possibilities make the position of government researcher even more prized and incite the best minds to take this path.


The tax on cars and the automobile profile of France

In 1956, France levied a tax on motor-vehicles. Since 1984, the proceeds of this tax have been distributed to localities although the tax is collected by the State. The collection which was FF 8 billion in 1984 is now more than FF 13 billion. The tax base is determined by the French State, which determines the different categories of vehicles depending on their horsepower and depending on their age (0-5 years, 5 to 20 years, 20-25 years). However, the rates for each category of vehicle are determined by each department, with 3% added on by the State to reimburse itself for collection charges. The tax therefore varies from department to department. It is interesting for people to register their car in Marne (51) the department with the lowest tax ((FF 278 for a 5-7 hp "new" car) rather than in Ariège (09) or Cantal (15), both of which had a tax of FF 600 for a similar car. This gives the range of the rate for the modal category. Till recently, all the major car-rental companies were registering their whole fleet of cars in Marne, but now the place of registration is determined by the place where the car is first rented out. Cars older than five years are taxed at half-rate compared to new cars (less than five years of age). Cars older than 25 years are not taxed at all. High horsepower cars can be taxed as high as FF 15,332 (Vaucluse, for more than 23 hp). The rate for really old cars (20 to 25 years) in Marne is FF 57 for the year. Certain cars are exempt (like cars of diplomats) and others have an exoneration or a "free tax" (for example, taxis and cars of commercial representatives). The tax has to be paid by the 30th of November of each year.

The tax data for the vignette (sticker), as this tax is called because of a tax coupon which one sticks on the lower right-hand corner of the windscreen, provides us with a profile of the French automobile population. The statistics for 1996-97 indicate a total population of 33 million cars. This compares with 24 million cars in 1982 and less than 4 million in 1956. This means that the growth rate of the French automobile market was 7.6% per year in the 1956-82 period but levelled off to 1.9% in the 1982-97 period. The proportion of new cars has gone down since 1984, mostly due to high prices, high insurance costs and increase in petrol costs, but also because the quality of cars has improved which means that people don't have to sell their cars every decade or so. Significantly, even the number of cars in the new-car segment has gone down after peaking out at 13.8 million in 1991-92, but it is believed that the peak was postponed artificially by the bonus offered by the government for exchanging old cars for new. Today, age-wise, 61% of French cars are older than five years and 39% are new (0 to 5 years).

Power-wise, 83% are less than seven horsepower, of which 63% are in the medium category (5-7 horsepower). This compares with 54% of medium size cars (5-7 hp) in 1983, indicating that the French have slowly come to prefer this type of car compared with the smaller (too small for family) or larger (too expensive to maintain) cars. Of the balance 17% of the car population, the 8 to 9 hp category accounts for 9%. Only 1% of the French automobile market is more than 17 hp.

Source: Notes bleues de Bercy # 151, tax rates have not been actualised.