Businesses spot potential in France despite uncertainty after Brexit vote
Franco-british Chamber of Commerce president Olivier Campenon says their message to firms at present is ‘business as usual’.
By chance, Mr Campenon took up his post on referendum day and said: “I’ve had a pretty active start.”
The business community reaction was “a huge surprise” because “very few expected it”, he said.
“The next question was ‘what is going to happen now’?
“There’s an opening of a door onto the unknown – uncertainty and a transition phase of two years or more.”
Since then they have had a couple of enquiries from British companies interested in setting up in France due to the vote. “They’re looking to open new offices, thinking that with what may happen in two years they need to be prepared and have representation in France. It’s too early to say if it’s a trend or not.”
Some large companies are putting major UK investments on standby until there is more clarity – such as EDF and its investment in nuclear power at Hinkley. “There are question marks over that now.
“Otherwise, we are telling members that any investments you are looking at which will make a return in less than two years – it makes sense to go ahead with it.
“We’re in a period of uncertainty but for now things are the same as before. Yes the exchange rate has slightly decreased but on the other hand it’s a good opportunity for French businesses to export – you have a 10% improvement on price.
“This isn’t new as rates change all the time and many members have mechanisms in place to protect themselves from it. The important message is it’s business as usual for now.”
Henry Beech Mole, a director of architecture and interior design studio RE:, said they had decided to close a London office and open one in Paris instead. Previously the firm had been operating in Greece, London and Berlin, he said.
“Post-referendum, Paris just looked the more attractive option because so much of our work is in the EU. We have moved towards getting rid of the London office because one of the first things to go when there is uncertainty tends to be construction.
“Plus working in the EU necessitates being in the EU in terms of qualification similarities. Plus I think there’s the potential that a lot of Englishspeakers may relocate here from London in financial services – so not only is Paris more open because it will remain in the EU but also it might give us a larger market than London if it will be turning away from being quite so international.”
Another firm that making plans for restructuring after the vote is easyJet.
It relies on being able to fly around Europe without restrictions, so in preparation for the referendum it made ‘informal’ enquiries about obtaining a new ‘Air Operator Certificate’ in another EU country, which would make sure it can continue as now (it currently has AOCs in the UK and Switzerland).
It has now started a formal application process to obtain one but is not yet revealing which country or countries it is looking at. A spokesman said it was possible to have several AOCs and there were no plans to move out of Luton where it has its largest base and main offices.
However the new AOC would probably require some level of permanent staffing in the other country, and it was possible that might become its ‘official’ headquarters even if the set-up was on a small scale.
Meanwhile, easyJet is lobbying the UK government and the EU in hopes that the UK may remain within a “fully liberal and deregulated aviation market”.