On Sunday, the English cyclist Chris Froome swept down the Champs-Élysées to win the 100th Tour de France. He is only the second ever Englishman to carry off the famous yellow jersey, following Bradley Wiggins' triumph last year. But as Froome's fans shout 'allez!' the youth of France are more likely to be crying to each other 'barrez'; which roughly translates as 'scram', 'beat it', 'get out of here.'
'Barrez-vous' has been the controversial challenge laid down by Felix Marquardt, who was born and raised in Paris, the son of an Austrian German father and a Greek mother from the Bronx. With his French upbringing, but international outlook he feels that the best hope for young people looking to make their way in the world is to leave the country.
Marquardt is not alone. An open letter published in Le Point magazine by a Sorbonne student called 'Clare G' claimed that half of 18 to 34-year-olds would leave France. Pew Research has recently published a report showing that the French are amongst the most pessimistic about their country's future with only 9% believing that their children will have a higher standard of living than their parents. The general concerns of the French about high unemployment and debt are more comparable with the attitudes of people in Greece, Spain and Italy, than the optimistic Northern European nations of Britain and Germany.
France's political institutions seem paralysed by the challenge of reform, with the left still believing that they can redistribute wealth that the country no longer creates. Former president, Nicolas Sarkozy has recently lamented that France appears to be the only country which is 'afraid of progress'.
His pessimism is shared by some of France's business leaders. Maurice Levy, the head of the Publicis communications network has complained that the county's economy is 'cumbersome, with archaic and incomprehensible administrative structures piled on top of one another.'
The French actor, Gérard Depardieu left France because of its high personal taxes, telling the prime minister in a letter that 'I'm leaving because you think success, creation, talent and anything different should be punished.'
David Cameron has promised to 'roll out the red carpet' for people looking to leave France to enjoy the low personal and business tax rates in the UK. London is attracting young French people to work not just in the financial services sector, but in our Europe leading centres of the new economy, like the creative and digital industries cluster at Tech City in Shoreditch. In my parliamentary constituency of Folkestone and Hythe, which is within sight of the French coast, local property agents are noting increased interest from buyers from across the channel.
In an interview with Vogue, Marie-Cecile Boulle, who runs a property consulting company in London, stated that "They come to England and find a complete openness to life. In France you can get boxed into one thing from a very young age. They like the English way of education, the positivity and can-do attitude. They come here and they feel free.'
Britain has reformed itself, to become more open and competitive in an increasingly challenging world. France now faces some of the same challenges that we have had to confront over the last 30 years. Whilst we would welcome people with talent and ambition to come and work in the UK, we all need a strong France to be a driving force in a prosperous European economy. So let's hope there is more 'allez!' than 'barrez!'
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