French try to squeeze more cash from tourists for medical bills

Franck Keiser BBC Radio 5 live Europe correspondent Just two years ago, my son was small, and we were travelling by car round the Greek islands. You could almost see the wave coming: “Dad,…

French try to squeeze more cash from tourists for medical bills

Franck Keiser

BBC Radio 5 live Europe correspondent

Just two years ago, my son was small, and we were travelling by car round the Greek islands. You could almost see the wave coming: “Dad, what are we up to? Why are we flying into France?”

After a few days of enjoying the scenery, people coming and going from Nice airport, and a little amount of general tomfoolery along the way, it came to pass that my son required dialysis.

He has been on the treatment, as the name suggests, for the past three years – and we find ourselves outside Grenoble having our insurance cover “rescued”.

It has been a bad day in the office. The French tourism authority, notably Espace Aix-en-Provence, took the decision to ask us to hand over our life-insurance plans as payment towards the subsidies of the “Prefecture de tourisme en Provence” which is running a competition to find the next youngster saving for the deposit for their first home.

These repayments are requested if the child has worked for the Espace Aix-en-Provence tourism organisation during a period of one or two years.

I suppose we are just pawning their plans. But anyway, they gave us the telephone number of the organisation. They called and said they would accept our biannual annual payments as payment, provided they could reclaim the extra VAT from the hospitals.

‘Incredible progress’

I’m not sure what their reasoning was, but I wondered what they would say about our own Macmillan trustees and our colleagues who are taking their own health insurance and refusing to pay the extra cost.

And so we will have to do some dodging as we go into the cashpoint in Florence to pay the insurance company.

It is an interesting point: the family of the little boy must go ahead with their life-insurance insurance and find for their deposits the extra money needed to satisfy the taxes imposed on the hospitals and the insurance companies.

But it is a question that is arising with greater emphasis, given the crisis in the tourism industry. And what seems to be clear is that France will have to tighten up its immigration policies if it is to survive.

At least there have been moves in a number of European countries to tighten regulations on the working permits of the tourists.

“France is in an incredibly difficult position,” an official with another French state tourism organisation was telling me at my hotel in Paris.

“People might think that Britain, and, of course, France, has the problem, but in fact, it is across Europe. We are asked to look after a certain percentage of these young people, but the rest get their funds elsewhere – Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and, of course, Britain.

“There are about 26 million tourists in France this year. Clearly, the system is not working.”

Tourism is, of course, a big earner of wealth for the French economy. There is also the question of what to do to get this load off at a time when France is struggling with its own economic problems.

The other tourism organisation dealing with young people needing funds for their deposits is clearly frustrated.

“For some time now,” it was telling me, “we have been trying to get what is known as a French youth credit system, but we have seen no signs of support on the part of the ministries of both finance and foreign affairs.

“And I think there are more and more French young people who now have a feeling of unfairness.”

Finally, there is the question of the blight of young people who simply do not want to work.

Surely, at some point, these people must start working?

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