Companies 'keep on arriving' in Paris despite chance of National Front victory
Companies looking for a new home after Brexit have not been put off France by the prospect of an election victory by the far-right National Front, the boss charged with running Paris' business district has said.
Marie-Celie Guillaume, the head of Defacto - the local authority responsible for managing La Defense, France's business district in the west of Paris - told the Press Association that companies are keeping an eye on the elections, but that Marine Le Pen herself is not an obstacle to relocating.
When asked whether the mere chance of a far-right victory was causing companies to put off committing to Paris, she said: "I don't think so, no, because there are a lot of companies arriving and they keep on arriving."
"A lot of new companies are arriving in the business district from France and from abroad and what we believe is that Brexit will accelerate that good tendency, and that is why the investors have confirmed their interest in building new towers."
It suggests Brexit is posing a bigger threat to business investment in Britain than the spectre of a National Front presidency in France, although Ms Guillaume said she was "confident" that the drawn-out election process will bump Ms Le Pen out of the race.
Rival presidential candidates including centre-right Republican Francois Fillon and centrist Emmanuel Macron are expected to introduce more business-friendly measures if elected, including loosening the country's strict employment laws that make it harder to fire workers - a big put-off for banks.
"This is something that is very much expected, particularly in the financial sector. So what we will probably go towards is some flexibility depending on the sector - which is a new position in France," Ms Guillaume said.
A number of UK-based firms, particularly financial services, have been searching for a new continental home to house their European headquarters or a new subsidiary in order to access the EU's single market in the wake of Brexit.
It comes after Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that Britain would scrap its single market membership as part of a hard Brexit.
La Defense is charging ahead with plans to build seven new skyscrapers over the next four years with renewed vigour - and Ms Guillaume says the district is already in a position to immediately accommodate 20,000 additional workers in La Defense.
"Obviously, Brexit has provoked new interest in La Defense," she said.
But the City of London Corporation, which governs the Square Mile, said it expects London to retain its crown as king of financial services in Europe.
A spokesman for the Corporation said: "Firms see locational options as a straightforward business decision. Factors such as Brexit and national elections will play into these decisions. However, they will not be the sole focus.
"London has long been established as the world's leading financial services centre, part of which is due to its prosperous relationship with the EU. It is in the best interests to the UK and the remaining EU 27 to continue this strong relationship.
"We firmly believe London will continue to thrive as the world's leading financial, professional and business service centre."
However, Ms Guillaume assured that La Defense is not trying to poach business from London and said the district wants to encourage the growth of a diverse business community rather than put all of its eggs in one basket with financial services.
Of the near-500 companies already established La Defense, 16% are insurers and banks, 19% are audit and consultancy firms, while energy and manufacturing make up 18% and 19%, respectively. The rest are are a mix of information, communication and other business sectors.
"It is a strength to have diversity because of course if you have a very, very strong financial sector and something happens in world finance, it's a catastrophe."