France is making start-up friendly reforms to lure tech talent and take on Silicon Valley

Key Points
  • French President Emmanuel Macron will announce plans to reform the country's rules on employee stock options.
  • Such compensation schemes give employees the chance to acquire a slice of the company they work for.
  • It comes after 500 European start-up founders warned of a "brain drain" of the best and brightest in Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks as he visits the Station F start-up campus in Paris.
Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images

France is bringing in new rules on employee stock options to lure in talent and compete with the U.S.' top tech hub.

President Emmanuel Macron will on Monday announce the government's plans, which look to expand its stock options scheme to include foreign companies with staff in France, among other rule changes.

The package of reforms comes after 500 European start-up founders called on EU member states to update and align their rules on employee stock options, which give employees the chance to acquire a slice of the company they work for.

The entrepreneurs, which include Stripe CEO Patrick Collison and TransferWise boss Taavet Hinrikus, warned of a "brain drain" of the best and brightest in Europe if policymakers didn't reform employee share ownership rules to help the EU's tech sector rival Silicon Valley.

A letter signed by the tech executives and coordinated by venture capital firm Index Ventures was sent to lawmakers across the continent last year. Index Ventures, an investor in the likes of Adyen and Deliveroo, has claimed U.S. tech workers own twice as much equity in the companies they work for than their European counterparts.

The changes from France will also ensure the stock options are priced at a fair-market value instead of the value paid by investors to avoid penalizing early employees, as well as remove restrictions on start-up visas that require eligible employers to be based in France.

France's $5.5 billion tech fund 'only the beginning,' French minister says
France's $5.5 billion tech fund 'only the beginning,' French minister says

According to a league table set up by Index Ventures, France is now ahead of the U.K. and even the U.S. when it comes to countries supporting start-ups the most, coming fourth behind Estonia, Israel and Canada.

And it looks like the government doesn't want its reforms to be limited to France. Digital Minister Cedric O says that though France wants to be a "world-leading country in technology," it also wants its initiative on stock options to become a "pan-European one."

The new rules are being unveiled ahead of the latest annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. According to Index Ventures Partner Martin Mignot, stock options policies "were singled out as a major barrier to European tech growth" at last year's event.

A big theme at this year's event however will no doubt be the taxation of digital companies, something France has taken a strict stance on. The country last year introduced a 3% tax on the domestic revenues of tech firms including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.

The move set off a tense trade spat with Washington, with President Donald Trump's administration threatening to impose retaliatory tariffs. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire is expected to meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Davos at the end of a 15-day deadline to settle the dispute.