Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 04:09:34 AM EST
I remember a time when the UK was not yet in the "Common Market", as we used to say. From central London newsmerchants, you could get a copy of a French newspaper. If you were an antisocial polluter of other people's lungs, as I was then, you could buy French cigarettes. Then you could sit down for a coffee or a glass of wine and read your paper and smoke. You could hear French conversation around you, especially in South Kensington, where the Lycée français is. This was part of the cosmopolitan colour of London life.
Thirty-five years later, it seems it's a big deal:
Bloomberg.com: Exclusive - London's French Foreign Legion Shuns Sarkozy Plea to Come Home
On Bute Street in South Kensington, you can pick up the Paris newspaper Le Monde at the French Book Shop and read it across the street while sipping an espresso at a sidewalk table of La Grande Bouchee, a Parisian-style deli. Nearby stands Monceau Fleurs, the Parisian florist's first U.K. outlet.
Oh, good, and it seems the Lycée français is still turning candidates away, as it used to. Apart from that, this Bloomberg article Jerome linked to the other evening tells us top French restaurateurs have opened London branches, surprise surprise. That smaller luxury food suppliers find their niche, a French baker being shown as an example. That London being congested and expensive doesn't put off a Chelsea-dwelling bestselling French author, who doesn't mind if British public services are "a catastrophe". That an expat lady has written a book about her experience of the English. That there's a magazine (at least one) for French ex-pats. That a Frenchman who found high-school visits to London horrible is really quite taken with the place now he's an analyst for JPMorgan and lunches at a top (French) restaurant...
I'm not being fair, am I? Of course London is a wealthier and more cosmopolitan place than it was a few decades ago. Of course there are many more French there now then back then (so much the better). But this "local colour" round-up by the Bloomberg journalists is not so very convincing.
The ideological slant of the piece, on the other hand, doesn't miss its target.
First of all, what they don't mention:
- the European Union and its citizens' residence rights, which are obviously part of the explanation for marginal migratory movements like this one (in other words, they are entirely to be expected);
- the growth of "globalising" factors such as faster and better telecommunications and transport (Channel tunnel? Low-cost flights?) that also play an enabling role;
- the corresponding movement of UK citizens to France, (where there's a string of magazines and newspapers for expats, and "Brits in France" books, starting with Peter Mayle's, are innumerable);
- young French in London doing menial service work (exclusively glitzy stuff in this article);
- not surprisingly, the Anglo Disease: London as a mushrooming financial services centre sucking in investment and skilled labour from the periphery.
This last point seems important, since it suggests the reason for the difference in type and outlook between the French and British migrations. The companion to the UK financial services boom is the housing bubble, that overflows to the high-gentrification-potential French property market. Meanwhile, London's labour market is tight and draws from a considerable distance the workers it requires (whether in menial or financial services, French candidates who are willing to make the jump are likely to be motivated and more than sufficiently skilled/qualified), and small entrepreneurs (from bakers to Michelin-starred restaurateurs) find niches for French specialities on a money-flooded local market (the competition is non-existent, says the baker).
But the article gives a simpler account, making use of quotes from the baker (the French are on strike, in France you work for others, you're dead before you start), and their own interspersed "expert" background. The economy, of course: the same old story of "lagging" French GDP growth, strong UK growth. Yes, London is a boom town. The problem for the UK is that everything is centred on London, and growth is based on financial services and the housing bubble. We may be seeing now what that is worth in the longer term (even if we know what will happen to us in the long term). The other element, of course, is jobs: Britain has created them, France hasn't. Quite untrue, as Jerome pointed out for the umpteenth time: over the last ten years, France and the UK have each created 2.5 million jobs. What's more, UK job creation has been more heavily skewed to the public sector (almost a million of those 2.5 million jobs). Authors Deen and Katz roll out the unemployment rate, 7.9% for France, 5.2% for the UK. The UK rate, unfortunately, is plain false: there's enough long-term unemployment hidden in Incapacity Benefit to take the UK level up to the French one. And, since the article refers to youth, the number of jobseekers among the 16-24 group in each country is substantially similar for a similar-sized population (around 600,000 for a population of around 7 million, OECD figures, or approximately 8.5%).
The icing on the cake, though, is Sarkozy, whose campaign rhetoric :
You've brought so much intelligence, imagination, passion for work and desire for success with you to London that you have helped give it vitality that Paris needs so much
is adduced by the authors as a kind of evidence for their main point, as if what Sarko says ever proves anything.
Numbers too are quoted without much sourcing. There are 190,000 French in London, says the article. Well, it's hard to know, just as it's hard to know how many Brits are in France. People are free to move and are not required to register. Census figures are probably short (INSEE gives 120,000 British citizens in France, [h/t to Melanchthon], with 45,000 arriving in 2004-5, but the total is probably higher).
The UK Office for National Statistics has migration stats compiled from other sources (International Passenger Survey) than the Census. This links to a recent .xls file giving immigration numbers from 1991 to 2006. The breakdown is not by country, but numbers are given for EU15. The positive balance, over those sixteen years, is 257,000 EU15 immigrants into the entire UK. Not much room there for the Gallic invasion of London. But the sources used for these numbers may be insufficient.
There are also consular data. A citizen of France in Britain (and vice versa) may register with their consulate, though it's not obligatory. The British Embassy in Paris gives the figure of 200,000 UK citizens living in France, though second-home owners/weekly commuters would probably make that higher.
Consular numbers for registered French citizens living in the UK give 111,000 in 2006 (pdf).
By way of comparison, the same consular tables indicate, for the other neighbouring countries of France, registered French citizens at these levels: Germany 109,000; Belgium 82,000; Italy 45,000; Spain 82,000; Switzerland 130,000 (champion because of the holes in the cheese, not because it's a tax haven). So one could say that there's nothing absolutely exceptional about the UK number. The French are not all leaving France to cross the Channel.
Then there's the question of how many non-registered migrants there are. A 2000 report from the French Senate quotes a consular document (La Communauté française dans la circonscription de Londres. Consulat Général de France à Londres, Mai 2000, not available online), as saying
| || |
|Le chiffre souvent avancé d'un nombre de non-immatriculés égal au moins au double des immatriculés est vraisemblablement en deçà de la réalité. Les explications à une telle proportion de non-immatriculés ne peuvent résulter que de conjectures. Plusieurs facteurs sont à prendre en compte: ici, peut-être encore plus qu'ailleurs, l'immatriculation auprès du Consulat Général est perçue comme d'autant moins utile que la France est très proche et les liaisons nombreuses et faciles. L'environnement local renforce ces réactions: le pays, ne présente pas de risque particulier, les facilités d'intégration y sont grandes, les formalités administratives britanniques souvent réduites à un minimum font ressortir d'autant l'approche "paperassière" de la démarche d'immatriculation. || ||The figure often suggested, that the number of non-registered nationals equals at least twice the registered number, is probably on the short side. Explanations for such a high number of non-registered nationals can only be derived from conjecture. Several factors need taking into account: here [London], perhaps more than elsewhere, registration with the consulate is not perceived as of any use since France is very close and there are plenty of easy connections. Local conditions strengthen this attitude: the country offers no particular risk, integration is easy, and British formalities, often minimal, contrast with the "red-tape" aspect of consular registration.|
Applying that formula (at least tripling the number of non-registered to get the full number) to the year 2006 would indicate from 333,000 to upwards of perhaps 400,000 French citizens living in the UK. On that basis, 190,000 in London doesn't seem outrageous. Though, as they say, we're in conjecture-land here.
What's not conjecture is that the Bloomberg article presents the phenomenon as something colossal, and searches for no nuance in assigning causes. They are the usual (bogus) economic clichés, pointed up by the baker's rancorous comments. The impression given is that the UK is the land of freedom, while France is mired in tax-and-regulate socialistic bureaucracy. In fact, it feels to me like Iron Curtain propaganda Lite, especially as it's not an isolated occurrence -- this narrative has been communicated repeatedly in the business and mainstream media over well-nigh a decade now. And it produces results. It increases British smugness towards France (if that were possible), and it increases a sense of social pessimism in France by which younger, educated people in particular bitterly trash the country as a hopeless mess. They do have some reasons for frustration in the bitty obstacle race that constitutes their entry into working life, though they may also be assuming they have an automatic right to an immediate good job thanks to their diploma, and some of them may certainly be looking at London through rose-tinted glasses. But that, right now, looks set to change...
Just for fun, and to add to the 2006 ICM poll I cited here, here's news of another opinion poll:
1 out of 3 Britons would prefer to live in France - French embassy - Ambassade de France
Carried out during French Wines Week in London, a new ICM poll¹ reveals the impact of the French lifestyle on the British.
According to the survey, a third of British citizens say they would rather live in France than the United Kingdom. Italy and Spain come third.
Of those aged under 50, one in five British citizens would have preferred to have been born in France rather than the United Kingdom and two out of five would be prepared to cross the Channel and set up home in France..
In their quest for a better life, the British are attracted by the wealth and diversity of France's culture and of course her gastronomic tradition. Even when asked for their favourite breakfast, three fifths of those under 50 would opt for coffee and croissants rather than a full English.
Over the past decade, France has been captivating more and more people from across the Channel. Another reason for this fascination is the success some French celebrities have been having in Britain: the "Thierry" factor (Thierry Henry), films such as "Amélie Poulain" and "The Da Vinci Code" are contributing to this British passion for France.
¹Poll commissioned by French Wines involved interviews with 1,010 people aged 18 and over in the UK during August 2006.
(My bold.) They obviously got them sloshed before they asked the questions :-)