The French Real Estate Association represents its growing international membership across a range of issues and the agenda for the future is packed, as the association's chairman, Jean-Paul Dumortier reports
The French Real Estate Association (Fédération des Sociétés Immobilières et Foncières or FSIF) represents all real estate companies and long-term investors with real estate assets based in France. By the middle of this year it had 47 members comprising most of the listed real estate companies in Paris; foreign-based firms, including several British and Dutch property operators; as well as a large number of insurance companies (such as AXA, Groupama and Générali) managing properties on their own account.
The FSIF represents listed real estate companies and institutional property investors, providing an interface with the French government, parliament, financial market and shareholders' associations. Lobbying is one of the association's key functions. The aim is to make known to the authorities the position of property companies with regard to proposed new laws and regulations affecting their operations and/or their business and financial interests. The French government usually consults the federation on legislative projects related to real estate.
FSIF dates back to 1935. Over the years, it has undergone several transformations, including in 1994, when its chairman, Jean Weil (1994-1997), led the merger of two real estate industry organisations - Syndicat des Sociétés Immobilières Françaises (SSIF) and Groupement des Sociétés Immobilières d'Investissement (GSII).
As the need arises, FSIF sets up commissions and working groups to examine each major issue or new development requiring detailed consideration or action to ensure that the property sector's position is taken into account. Five commissions examine the following issues: financial and accounting standards, legal issues and property valuations, lobbying, financial communications, shopping centres and retail urban planning, and labour policies (jobs, salaries and training).The FSIF counts among its most significant recent achievements:
The SIIC regime, introduced on 1 January 2003 and amended in 2004, 2005 and 2006 is similar to the US REIT regime and has been a great success. Europe's other large economies - the UK, Germany and Italy - introduced their own REIT regimes soon after, with specific local provision on leverage, permitted development activities or shareholder structure and composition.
The French SIIC system is by far the most liberal regime in Europe. The major recent cross-border transaction involving the merger of Unibail and Rodamco was effected through a French SIIC, and created the leading Pan European commercial property company. The introduction of a new index for retail leases, legislation for which was passed in the summer. From 2009 the new index will replace the index based on construction cost (ICC). The aim is to limit the volatility of retail lease indexation in the interests of both the lessors and lessees. Looking forward, FSIF will continue to contribute to the development of legislation governing real estate and in particular will focus on the following: The promotion of investment in the listed real estate sector as an asset class (durable cash flow and high return relative to bonds). The promotion - liaising with EPRA - of the European REIT passport. If we cannot standardise REITs within the EU due to the specific requirements of individual governments on taxation, we strongly recommend that European states work towards a system which taxes equally the various REITs on their foreign asset portfolios. This will do much to facilitate a REIT's cross-border operations, cases of which are still rare. Furthermore the different nation states where the property is located should take the opportunity to levy tax equally within the EU, as the OECD recommends. The third major long-term project of the FSIF in the coming years will be to facilitate the development of its members' real estate assets on environmental principles. We will thus negotiate with the French government on realistic laws to reduce real estate's direct or indirect energy usage and limit CO2 emissions. Detailed - and fruitful - discussions have already been launched with the French Ministry of Environment on this matter. Finally, the FSIF will focus on strengthening its links with its European and US counterparts EPRA and NAREIT to represent French real estate companies' interests reflecting the rapid globalisation of the industry.
Jean-Paul Dumortier is chairman of the French Real Estate Association