France to Startups: Entrepreneur Is a French Word

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France offers startups some of the best tax incentives for research and development in the world, while new tax breaks for angel investors have diverted €1 billion (US$1.3 billion) in taxes to fund startups, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Wednesday.

She called on conference attendees at Le Web 08 in Paris to help dispel the old myths that the French are a lazy, risk-averse people who don't want to be entrepreneurs.

"The typical cliché is that the American is an entrepreneur and the typical Frenchman is conservative, a civil servant. That's unfair," she said.

Entrepreneur was originally a French word, she said, adding that a recent survey had shown that up to 70 percent of French people questioned would like to create their own business.

The government is making it easier for them to do so, she added.

From Jan. 1, anyone wanting to create a new business will be able to do so simply by filling in two Web pages, automatically registering themselves with all the necessary authorities at a stroke. Then, as long as their revenue remains under €80,000 a year, they pay social security charges and business and payroll taxes at a low, flat rate, further simplifying the administrative procedures so they can concentrate on growing their business.

While most Internet startups will have more ambitious revenue targets than that, they may be helped by other government measures intended to ease France through the global financial crisis, including spending on broadband communications infrastructure.

Eric Besson, the French minister responsible for development of the digital economy, also spoke at Le Web 08.

The government sees the global economic crisis as an opportunity to tune up the French economy to make it more competitive, investing in new technology infrastructure and language teaching, he said.

He likened the French government's economic strategy for dealing with the crisis to the way motor racing teams make pitstops to switch tires and adjust performance when race cars are bunched up behind the pace car following an accident.

"The safety car is on the track. The countries that will come out of the crisis stronger are those that change their strategy," he said.

Besson's ambitions are not purely nationalist: He also spoke of the opportunities for Europe as a whole to improve its performance, and of his desire for Europe to play a larger part in the creation of the next generation of Internet applications.

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