Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

A tale of two cities: French firms envy German conditions

From Juliet Mann, CNN
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two towns either side of the French-German border have contrasting economic fortunes
  • French Selestat has 7.4% unemployment, compared with 2.8% in German Emmendingen
  • French businesses say they envy the lower tax and labor costs across the border
  • They fear the burden on French business will increase after the forthcoming election

(CNN) -- Emmindingen is a small town in southwest Germany, with about 26,000 people and an enviable unemployment rate of just 2.8% .

But barely 20 miles away, across the French border, the picture is very different. The Alsatian town of Selestat has a similar industrial base, but an unemployment rate of 7.4%. Among young people, the contrast is even starker, with 23% of under-25s unemployed in the French town, compared to 1.8% in Emmendingen.

The differing fortunes of these neighboring border towns illustrate the complaints of many French businesses, as their country heads towards a presidential election.

Anne Leitzgen is the president of SALM Kitchens, a family-run business which has operated since the 1930s, and has one of the largest worktop production lines in Europe.

We are afraid money will be taken from our companies, and afraid that taxes will increase a lot
Anne Leitzgen, president of French kitchen manufacturers SALM

Despite a commitment to invest in Selestat, she worries about the increased costs of running a firm in France, saying taxes are higher, labor is twice as expensive, and workers' benefits are double those paid in Germany.

Leitzgen says she is concerned the next French government will tax companies like hers out of business. "We are afraid money will be taken from our companies, and afraid that taxes will increase a lot and the situation will become bad for companies our size ," she says.

Further, she says, the "relationship between the unions is more constructive and easier in Germany."

Across the border is the workplace of Emmanuel Foyer, a Frenchman who lives in his homeland but commutes to work in Emmendingen. Foyer, the sales manager for plastics industry solutions provider Braunform, believes a German focus on the long-term is behind the current success.

"In Germany, for sure, we are thinking of the long-term. In a company like this, [there's a] huge focus on training and the future of our employees," he says. "The approach in Germany to keep workers in times of low-load level means we were ready when the economy restarted."

I sincerely hope that jobs reforms will be put in place immediately
Marcel Bauer, mayor of Selestat, France

The trade-off for German workers is less job security, no national, fixed minimum wage, and less extensive social protections for the unemployed.

But the mayor of Selestat, Marcel Bauer, says it is time for France to make these changes to regain its economic competitiveness.

"As soon as the next president is in office -- be it the one we've got or a new one -- I sincerely hope that jobs reforms will be put in place immediately," he says. "The system needs to be more flexible. There is a lot that must change, starting with the mindset of employers and employees."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Europe
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Marketplace Europe visits Latvia to see how the Baltic country has made its transition to the Euro from the Lat.
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
CNN's Nina Dos Santos visits Latvia to speak to the country's outgoing Prime Minister and the prospects for the eurozone's 18th member.
January 2, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Malta is the gateway to Europe and on the frontline of the immigration flows. Isa Soares reports from a detention center on the Mediterranean island.
January 2, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
CNN's Isa Soares speaks with people on the streets of Valletta who say their country can't cope with more migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1006 GMT (1806 HKT)
Malta cannot afford to continue supporting migrants from war-torn countries in its over-crowded detention camps, the country's foreign minister has told CNN.
December 26, 2013 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
Slow recoveries, bailouts, and youth unemployment. Richard Quest speaks to Europe's top CEOs about the issues of 2013.
December 26, 2013 -- Updated 2114 GMT (0514 HKT)
CNN's Richard Quest speaks to economist Bob Parker about defining moments of 2013 and about what to expect in 2014.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Estonia is setting the pace for other European nations with a thriving economy and its tech industry, according to the Baltic nation's leader.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
The Baltic nation of Estonia is developing its oil shale energy reserves in a bid to become energy self-sufficient.
November 29, 2013 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
Europe must stop being nationalistic if it wants to help a lost generation of workers, the regional boss of U.S. conglomerate General Electric says.
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Peer at the windows and you'll spot big colorful chairs, plastic plants and a huge bed, but this is no department store.
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1006 GMT (1806 HKT)
There once was a time, many years ago, when the sounds of bagpipes struck fear into the stomachs of Englishmen.
November 11, 2013 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
Greece is on the way to economic recovery as investor faith returns to the recession-ridden eurozone nation, an executive at Greece's largest bank has told CNN.
November 8, 2013 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Could Greece's famous spice help the country's farmers through a four-year long economic crisis.
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
One of the masterminds behind the euro says Europe would have suffered a far worse fate if the single currency had never been created.
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
Nina Dos Santos visits the Dutch city where the European treaty carrying the city's name came into force 20 years ago.
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
As Spain continues its drive to slash budgets and cut spending, one of the nation's favorite pastimes is under threat as ministers look for ways to boost productivity.
October 24, 2013 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
The high commissioner of Brand Spain talks about getting the country back on its fee and attracting business.
ADVERTISEMENT