Entente cordiale cools on French ski slopes

Entente cordiale cools on French ski slopes

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French ski instructors are giving the cold shoulder to British counterparts thanks to looming EU legislation they fear will take away jobs and dumb down their standards.

La Tania -- Franco-British rivalry on slopes in France -- the second biggest ski destination after the United States -- is nothing new.

For years British ski buffs have crossed the Channel to indulge their passion and make money doing so, catering to tens of thousands of Britons from the slope-deprived isles who flock to French resorts each winter.

But the edgy entente cordiale chilled with a recent proposal for a European Professional Card "enabling professionals to take full advantage of the potential of the Single Market", as the European Commission website put it.

A headline in the Liberation daily said it all: "After the Polish plumber, the English ski instructor" -- recalling France's fear of invasion by job-hungry residents from Eastern European states admitted in the 2004 EU "big bang" enlargement.

"Everything is done to discourage us from settling in here," said Andrew Parker, a 34-year-old originally from a village outside London.

Parker works as a certified "moniteur", or ski instructor, at the posh Alpine resort of La Tania, part of France's vast Trois Vallees network where an estimated 70 percent of skiers are English-speaking.

AFP/File/Jean-Pierre Clatot
Skiers at the Megève ski station in the French Alps

But getting there wasn't easy. It took him six years to earn full "moniteur" status. The key was passing the tough, technical "Eurotest", Europe's top ski instruction qualification.

"I took the test more than 20 times before I passed, whereas in England I had the highest certification," complained Parker in fluent French.

In 2009, all 52 foreigners who took the Eurotest in France failed.

"In New Zealand, America, Australia and Canada I was more than qualified. But here I was considered only an apprentice and had to pass more exams to be able to work," he groaned.

Of some 16,000 ski instructors certified in France, only 10 percent are foreign, many from neighboring Italy, according to ski officials.

Their gripe is more with British instructors hired by British tour operators and paid in Britain, or their "freelance" compatriots who go door-to-door to drum up clients at French resorts.

"To prosecute an uncertified ski instructor, you have to prove there was a monetary transaction and catch them in the act," said police lieutenant Gilles Chessel in the mountain station of Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

Not easy. Police caught no one last year, though even Parker said he's been stopped many times to show credentials.

"Competition is tough here with foreign monitors," notably British, complained Manchu Dugit, a director in La Tania for the vocal ESF (Ecole du Ski Francais), which employs 90 percent of all instructors.

ESF wants to protect jobs created by the 1960s development of ski resorts that was a boom for quiet French mountain zones.

The European Professional Card, which won't go to a vote before next year, covers several professions, including mountain guides. It aims to minimise problems when professionals try to relocate within the 27-member EU, like demonstrating acceptable credentials.

Picture shows a skier in Megeve ski station

Already, a test case in 2006 broke ESF's monopoly when a French court ruled in favour of Simon Butler, whose team of fellow British instructors has taught British clients for years in Megeve despite threats of fines and imprisonment.

Simon was accused of working without passing the Eurotest, his lawyer Paul Salvisberg told AFP.

But the court cited the "discriminatory nature of this test". "It could not be obligatory because other countries in the European Union didn't impose it," the lawyer said.

"We have five years of training on average and I don't see why this level should be dropped," railed Pierick Queffeuleu, another ESF instructor at La Tania.

For Filippo Roberto, his Italian colleague, it boils down to cultural differences.

"We (Italians) are well accepted since we're seen as a nation that also knows mountains," he said. "It's notably the English who aren't well liked because they don't have this culture."

"The French instructors often tell us we come to steal their clients, but we're a minority of the foreign instructors," protested Briton Rebecca Malthouse, 43, who works in the Alpine resort of Mozine.

"It's a shame, we just want to work," she added. "I think there's enough place for everyone."

Estelle Emonet / AFP / Expatica

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