Père Noël Comes Early This Year

IAN HANNING/REA

Each year the French government hands out a prime de Noël, or Christmas bonus, to the unemployed and poor — a gift that will equal €310 million in 2002. But this year French Industry Minister J. Nicole Fontaine (pictured) decided to back a matching gift — some €300 million over two years — to young "innovative" companies.

To stimulate the economy, the state — known for exorbitant corporate taxes and social charges — says it wants to cultivate firms that have been around for eight years or less and that invest at least 15% of their budgets...

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