I was once almost arrested on a French train because, despite having a paid-for Eurail Pass in hand, the conductor insisted I didn't have a proper ticket. That's because, in keeping with byzantine French bureaucracy, the Eurail Pass required a pre-departure stamp at a booth in the station (I think it was the Gare de l'Est). The purpose of the stamp, so far as anybody could tell me, was to demonstrate that you had gone to the booth to get the stamp. But, also in keeping with byzantine French bureaucracy, the booth had been unmanned for the entire time I'd been in the station, and other officials denied the authority to wield the stamp.
Ultimately, after a ten-minute argument, I coughed up a few francs to settle the matter.
France has not improved since then, to the point that even French government officials admit to filing endless reams of regulatory mandates unread, to conducting business in violation of the rules, and to being baffled as to how anybody could comply with often contradictory red tape. Private business operators find the matter a tad more challenging.
From the Washington Post:
ALBARET-SAINTE-MARIE, FRANCE — Although he is rich with 25 years of experience as mayor of this little town in the wooded hills of central France, Michel Therond gets advice from the bureaucrats in Paris almost every time he opens the mail.
One day's delivery brings a directive stipulating that the sidewalks must be widened to permit two wheelchairs to cross paths without bumping. Another says the school cafeteria must be made accessible by elevator. Trees must be trimmed of branches six feet up their trunks, the orders go, and only government-certified technicians can change a light bulb on city property.
"We are being strangled," Therond complained, sifting through a pile of rules and regulations on his desk that he largely ignores — and many of which he does not even understand.
France and its southern European neighbors, such as Italy and Greece, are increasingly being buried in such norms, rules and directives. In the past two decades, the number of legal do's and don'ts has become so great that businessmen and economists warn that it is smothering growth just as the continent tries to dig out of its worst slump in a generation. …
Applied to business with equal bureaucratic fastidiousness, such rules and regulations prove even more expensive in the private sector. They cost the 27 European Union countries an average 3.7 percent of their gross domestic product a year, more than $10 billion in the case of France, and hold back an incalculable amount of new investment, according to the OECD.
After the OECD's latest economic survey of France, the organization's Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, told the French government, "The French economy has tremendous assets and considerable potential, but excessive regulation and high levels of taxation are gradually eroding its competitiveness."
Mildly put, that's about right. I'll bet that booth is still doing whatever it does at the Gare de l'Est.
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