Paris Is Going All Out for London’s Brexit Exiles
On floors 24 to 27 of the Europlaza tower in La Defense, on the outskirts of Paris, workers hammer away as they prepare the offices of the European Banking Authority, unperturbed by the twists and turns of the seemingly never-ending Brexit negotiations.
The regulator in charge of setting standards for European lenders and conducting bank stress tests will be fully operational from Paris with a 200-strong staff on June 3, ending its eight-year existence in London regardless of when exactly the U.K. leaves the European Union.
“We will continue operating as we did from London,” Executive Director Adam Farkas said in an interview. “Staff members enjoyed the offerings of London. I’m pretty sure they’ll find a way to enjoy Paris soon.”
Winning the bid to host the body was a coup for the French capital after it competed with Frankfurt, Dublin, Madrid and Amsterdam to be known as the EU’s financial epicenter. Now, the butchers, hairdressers and schools of Paris, like its government, are going all out to ensure Brexit-driven movers are made to feel at home, bringing imperceptible changes to life in a city that hasn’t always been seen as welcoming.
Unlike the Germans and the Dutch, for example, the French have been reluctant speakers of English in spite of the country’s ranking among the world’s top tourist destinations. That’s changing.
Laurent Dumont and his wife Nathalie, who run their family butcher’s shop, Boucherie des Arênes, on rue Monge in the fancy 5th arrondissement of Paris, roll their tongues around unfamiliar-sounding English words these days to describe their offerings of Porc Noir de Bigorre or Boeuf de race Parthenaise.
“We have an increasing number of English-speaking clients,” said Nathalie. “They don’t even try to speak French; they launch straight away into English and we’ve had to adapt. There are two of us speaking English in the butcher shop, which is obviously a good thing.” She’s now working on boosting her employees’ English skills.
Florence Charlet, a 46-year-old hairdresser at Thomas C Coiffure in Paris’s fashionable 8th arrondissement, has a similar tale to tell. “We’re having to speak English more and more,” she said. “The last hairdresser I hired had to speak English—it’s a required skill.”
For Valerie Ficara, the headmistress of the Lucie-Aubrac school in Courbevoie, near La Defense, it’s been about fielding phone calls from Brexit-fleeing parents whose kids will start their academic year in France in September. “We’re getting 30 calls a day,” she said.
Mari-Liis Garcia at France Global Relocation has been busy providing logistical support for families. “We’ve seen an increase in requests ahead of Brexit,” she said. “We help mostly with administrative procedures, notably visas and residency permits.” She’s being inundated with requests for short-term rentals.
The Paris region government has been a key driver of France’s Project Brexit. Alexandra Dublanche, who’s in charge of economic development in the region, has worked on 161 Brexit-related projects since 2016, directly or indirectly representing about 7,000 jobs, 80 percent of them in finance.
“We’ve been on roadshows since 2016,” said Dublanche. “Many companies are still in a wait-and-see mode and we expect many more decisions in the mid and long term.”
HSBC Holdings Plc has said it’s moving 1,000 jobs to Paris, while Bank of America Corp. is transferring 400 jobs. Others include Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., H2O Asset Management, Polar Capital and Smart Lenders Asset Management. The moves out of London have been on a much smaller scale than previously estimated, however.
To add to Paris’s appeal a law was passed this month exempting white-collar workers moving to France from contributing to the country’s pension-insurance plan for up to six years. A new court has been created for international commercial contract disputes, with proceedings possible in English.
The region is bending over backwards, said Dublanche, offering companies free services to help with administrative issues such as visa applications or free French classes for spouses.
In the EBA’s case, a team was dispatched to London to help the body’s employees with housing and other administrative procedures. EBA staff were given tours of residential districts in and around Paris, and French classes are being offered to those who’ve asked for them.
The government body charged with attracting foreign investment has 80 counselors to help families relocate, organizing workshops in London on life in Paris.
“The first question people ask is about schools, the second is how to find work for their partner or spouse,” said Lionel Grotto, its head.
Several new schools have popped up to meet the expected demand in and around Paris. The Education Ministry has set up a bilingual information website, and is also pushing bilingual education in French schools, with a program that started this year that will eventually include 4,500 students just in the Versailles area, west of Paris.
Some Brexit exiles are French people coming back home. Erich Bonnet, 56, for example, who created Smart Lenders in London five years ago to invest in U.S. peer-to-peer loans, moved to Paris with his Russian wife and their six-year-old daughter, fearing the consequences of Brexit. While Bonnet enjoyed London’s “exceptional” cosmopolitan lifestyle, he’s happy to be back home.
“There’s a pretty strong wind of modernization in Paris, while you also feel that French culture is still present,” especially in terms of public services, he said. “You need to return to rediscover it.”
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.