“WHEN the vote took place,” says Valérie Pécresse, “it was an opportunity for us to promote Île de France”, the region around Paris of which she is the elected head. Two advertising campaigns were prepared, depending on the result of Britain’s referendum last June on leaving the European Union. The unused copy ran: “You made one good decision. Make another. Choose Paris region.”
Brexit has made Paris bolder. Once Britain leaves Europe’s single market, the many international banks and other firms that have made London their EU home will lose the “passports” that allow them to serve clients in the other 27 states. Possibly, mutual recognition by Britain and the EU of each other’s regulatory regimes will persist. But no one can rely on the transition to Brexit being smooth, rather than a feared “cliff edge”. Best to assume the worst.
Britain is expected to start the two-year process of withdrawal next month. Given the time needed to get approval from regulators, find offices and move (or hire) staff, financial firms have long been weighing their options. London will remain Europe’s leading centre, but other cities are keen to take what they can.
The Parisians are pushing hardest, pitching their city as London’s partner and peer. “I don’t see the relationship with London as a rivalry,” says Ms Pécresse. “The rivalry is not with London but with Dublin, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Frankfurt.” Especially, it seems, Frankfurt. Paris has more big local banks, more big companies and more international schools than its German rival. London apart, say the French team, it is Europe’s only “global city”. When, they smirk, did you last take your partner to Frankfurt for the weekend?
This month the Parisians were in London, briefing 80 executives from banks, asset managers, private-equity firms and fintech companies. They are keen to dispel France’s image as an interventionist, high-tax, work-shy place. The headline corporate-tax rate is 33.3% but due to fall to 28% by 2020. A scheme giving income-tax breaks to high earners who have lived outside France for at least five years will now apply for eight years after arrival or return, not five. The Socialists, who run the city itself, and Ms Pécresse’s Republicans are joined in a business-friendly “sacred union”, says Gérard Mestrallet, president of Paris Europlace, which promotes the financial centre. Ms Pécresse and others play down the risk that Marine Le Pen, of the far-right, Eurosceptic National Front will win the presidential election this spring.
More quietly, Hubertus Väth of Frankfurt Main Finance (the counterpart of Paris Europlace)…