French government to streamline overbearing regulations

Operational complexity has cost industry €60bn according to OECD

French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault:  his office is to publish a list of regulations to be abrogated by the end of April. These include rules on portions of boiled eggs for pupils at schools.

French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault: his office is to publish a list of regulations to be abrogated by the end of April. These include rules on portions of boiled eggs for pupils at schools.

Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 07:00

The French government yesterday initiated the choc de simplification promised by President François Hollande by declaring a “moratorium” on new government-imposed health, pollution, building and other standards.

“Henceforward, any new proposed regulation will not be accepted unless it is accompanied by an equivalent simplification,” said a statement from the prime minister’s office, following a meeting of the interministerial committee for the modernisation of public action, known as “Map”.


400,000 regulations
According to a report by former conservative budget minister Alain Lambert and socialist mayor of Le Mans Jean-Claude Boulard, France is virtually collapsing under the weight of 8,000 laws and more than 400,000 regulations.

French politicians seem to want every detail of French life to be as orderly as a garden designed by Le Nôtre. Such obsessive behaviour is estimated to have cost local governments €2 billion between 2008 and 2011. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says France’s administrative complexity costs businesses €60 billion, or 3 percentage points of gross domestic product.

Mr Lambert says “the government and parliament must stop believing in the magical power of the law”. He told Le Figaro France must undergo “a Copernican revolution” to “temper its principle of precaution, to give the French the right to take risks”.

The prime minister’s office said it will publish a list of regulations to be abrogated by the end of this month. Famous cases include rules on portions in school canteens. Pre-schoolers are entitled to one-quarter of a hard-boiled egg, which increases to half an egg in kindergarten, a whole egg in primary school and an egg and a half from middle school on. According to Le Parisien , 52 people met repeatedly to draw up the 80-page report which determines such portions.

Another regulation requires all new buildings to comply with seismic standards, even in areas that have never known earthquakes. It cost an extra €160,000 to build an earthquake-resistant middle school in Le Mans. The Lambert-Boulard report proposes relaxing seismic standards.


Light bulb moment
Le Figaro sent a reporter to Albaret-Sainte-Marie, in the Lozère region. The village, which has a population of 573 and no handicapped residents, has been ordered to widen pavements “so that two wheelchairs can pass each other”. To change a light bulb, the town hall is required to employ an “agent for local entertainment” who has been “specifically trained” and obtained “qualification”. Sixty pages of rules dictate the accountant’s management of the village’s €411,000 budget.

Albaret-Sainte-Marie has been ordered to move the school canteen for the fourth time in 25 years, because children might not have enough time to run down a flight of stairs if there’s a fire. The canteen must keep daily records of the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer, and chronicle thawing and frying. All food labels are kept, including those from tins. And 100gm samples of food served are preserved for a week in the event of food poisoning.

The government has dispatched ministers to Denmark and Sweden to study efficiency, and will soon receive a Canadian delegation. Successive administrations have have created countless committees and commissions to conduct audits and write reports on simplifying government.

The prime minister’s office announced yesterday that about 15 state agencies will be merged or dissolved, but it did not say which ones.