I joined a union today. See, I’m taking my drive to become a French national this year very seriously.

I’ve signed up with the FEDAE – Fédération des auto-entrepreneurs. And on a good day since today the federation presented its livre blanc to the government. A livre blanc, literally white book, is an official document published by a parliament or an organisation which lays out its aims in a ‘don’t mess with me’ kind of way that demands official respect.

OK, so what exactly is an auto-entrepreneur, in case you’re not familiar with the term. He or she is an entrepreneur – i.e. self-employed business person – on a small scale. If you provide a service (e.g. editing, translating, book-keeping) and your income is less than €32,600, or if you are a commer__çant selling things, and this includes holiday accommodation, and you earn less than €81,500 then that qualifies you to an auto-entrepreneur. (It is optional though – you can choose another form of business but that’s for another blog.) The main benefit is from the simplified fiscal regime auto-entrepreneurship allows you. You pay your cotisations every 3 months at the relevant level (either 12.3%, 18.3% or 21.3%). If you haven’t earned anything at all, then there’s nothing to pay. However, if you don’t earn anything for more than a year, you lose the status.

The FEDAE has presented its livre blanc today on behalf of its 33,000 members – I guess I make it 33,001 now!- and also on behalf of the 1,000,000 auto-entrepreneurs in France, because people, mainly politicians and bureaucrats, keep giving us a hard time. Since introducing the auto-entrepreneur scheme in 2009, the authorities seem to have been trying very hard to get rid of it. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is a definite air of dislike and distrust emanating from the various bureaucrats towards auto-entrepreneurs. AEs are attacked from all sides. Recently there have been plans to make them pay TVA, to have their accounts audited and to allow them to only be auto-entrepreneurs for 2 or 3 years. After that, it’s back to the mainstream business types. I think this latter is the stupidest suggestion of the lot. Why on earth should there be a time limit? If you’re a small enterprise, then you’re a small enterprise, end of story. SARLs, EIRLs, EARLs etc don’t have a time limit. Why should this business type be any different? Are we all meant to involve into multi-million multi-nationals overnight? Hmm.

The auto-entrepreneur scheme is frankly a godsend to small traders like me. You pay what you owe on your actual earnings. The Micro-BIC scheme which was the closest there was to AE before 2009, and what most new businesses started as, demanded cotisations based on pie-in-the-sky estimations of earnings set in place by the fonctionnaires (bureaucrats). So for our first few months of business in 2007, we earned €60 and paid €600 in cotisations. The next year, 2008, we had a gross income of €4,200 and paid just over €3,000 in social charges, due to their being based on these certain immutable imaginary amounts. And then in 2010 I got a demand to pay another €400 on 2008’s earnings. I never did full understand why, despite writing letters, phoning, going in to the RSI etc. I just had to hand the money over or they’d have sent in the firing squad.

It’s no wonder why people couldn’t wait to go the AE route and get away from this crazy system of social charges, not to mention the general lack of support that was forthcoming from the bodies that were meant to be looking out for the small business person. I won’t go into details since it’s bad for my blood pressure.

So, the FEDAE is here to keep an eye on the various threats to the AE régime and fight to protect it. It organises workshops, petitions, exhibitions, offers advice and assistance, and generally works to promote the image of small-scale entrepreneurship to the public in general. It’s got its work cut out but thank goodness it’s there for us.

Vive la FEDAE !