France aims for a cleaner, leaner 2016
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France is set to implement sweeping changes in 2016, including shakeups which will change the face of the country’s capital and regions, while the ongoing state of emergency voted through after the November 13 Paris attacks is worrying rights groups.
Ongoing state of emergency
Two devastating terrorist attacks in 2015 – targeting satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January, followed by the devastating attacks in the French capital on November 13 – killed a total of 147 people. In the wake of November 13, France announced its first state of emergency since the bloody 1950s Algerian War of Independence.
This state of emergency, due to expire at the end of February 2016, has seen hundreds of French citizens arrested without warrants, prompting fears from rights groups that it will further stigmatize the country’s large Muslim minority.
The government plans to enshrine a state of emergency provision into the French constitution this year.
A Greater Paris
The French capital, which until the end of 2015 was defined as the relatively small “old” Paris area within the “Périphérique” ring road, expands as of January 1 to become the Métropole de Grand Paris (Metropolis of Greater Paris). The Metropole will be administered by 209 councilors chosen by local authorities in the new expanded Greater Paris which will include the suburbs (banlieue) and now cover 814 square kilometers. It will incorporate three entire departments (administrative regions), all the capital’s major airports and just under seven million people. In comparison, Greater London covers an area of 1,572 square kilometers and a population of 8.5 million. The Metropolitan Council will be responsible for urban planning, housing and the environment. The changes coincide with plans to expand the city’s metro public transport system to connect the capital’s suburbs to the heart of the city.
A new regional map
The map of France’s regions has also been redrawn, reducing their number from 22 to 13, as of January 1 in a bid to streamline local government and reduce costs. Because of the proportional nature of the voting process, in two of these regions – Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur – the far right National Front (FN) will have a larger number of council seats after the party’s relative success in December’s regional elections.
A move towards streamlined income tax
The French parliament is expected to debate a bill this year for taxation at source for employees. Currently, workers’ monthly pay slips include deductions for compulsory social security payments such as unemployment and medical insurance. Everyone is obliged to file a tax return annually and pay income taxes based on their net income (after social security deductions). The move is intended to move France towards a system similar to Britain’s “Pay As You Earn”, whereby both income tax and social security payments are deducted at source and paid directly to the government by employers.
End of single use plastic bags
Among other environmental measures, single use plastic bags of the type used by nearly all grocery shops across France will be phased out from shops by March 2016. The measure was due to be implemented on January 1 but has been held up by the European Commission which has asked for a clearer definition of the weight and type of bag affected by the ban, which does not include bags deemed to be recyclable or re-usable. A second law, planned for January 1st 2017, will expand the ban to include plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables.
In a bid to recuperate lost tax revenue, Web services such as flat-sharing site Airbnb and car-sharing platforms Drivy and BlaBlacar will be obliged, as of July 2016, to send users an annual breakdown of their earnings through these sites for their income tax declarations. The government has been under increasing pressure to crack down on these sites, including from the hotel industry which says it has seen a drop in revenue due to the popularity of Airbnb. Hotels, meanwhile, will have to be more up-front about services they offer when customers book online, with clearer information on bills detailing local taxes, as well as the cost of supplementary services such as wireless Internet and breakfasts.
Get on your bike
As of 2016, French employers will be encouraged (but not obliged) to reward employees who get to work by bike at a rate of 25 cents per kilometer. A commuter cycling 20 kilometres per day could see a cash benefit of around 20 euros in a typical working month simply for leaving the car at home.