Regulation

France Smothers Under Regulatory Burden

Even local officials admit there are too many rules to follow

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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.