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Trip Report: SIL, 02 Jan 2003

by paul last modified 2006-01-20 19:06

At the beginning of January, I visited Soissons Informatique Libre to discuss starting the formal association for the ZEA. Tremendous progress and trapped in a snowstorm to boot! More details below in the trip report.

On 02 Jan 2003, I packed away the party hats and stale champagne for a trip to Soissons, France. The trip had a big purpose: get the legal entity for the Zope Europe Association started.

As background, there have been two competing proposals for the legal entity behind my Zope Europe effort. The first proposal involved rehabilitating the existing EuroZope eV in Germany. The second involved starting a new association in France by teaming with the people at Soissons Informatique Libre (SIL).

On the first proposal, the initial response from a German lawyer indicated that the eV might not support the goals of the association. We set a deadline of Dec 31 to get a second legal opinion but this didn't come to pass.

Thus, the trip to Soissons was quite important. I had prepared a long list of questions related to taxes and the laws for non-profits. The agenda also called for discussion of operational questions (how does payroll happen) and preparation of an accurate budget that reflected the tax status in France.

The trip began with portent and omens. The train that ran direct to Picardie was booked. (Note: I later discovered that the SNCF website doesn't give an accurate portrayal of capacity.) When reserving the train that ran through Paris, I got two website errors before completing the third attempt. And I later discovered that my credit card generated three charges, so now I have to fight SNCF.

Herveline and the kids dropped me off at the train, and everything was uneventful through Paris. However, the train broke down north of Paris and I had to take a bus to Soissons. I arrived at SIL in the evening and began a very fruitful discussion.

About SIL...they are a non-profit based in Soissons, France, in the region of Picardie. Their mission is to boost the economy of the region by acting as a business incubator for free software companies and efforts. They have funding from the EU, from France, from the Picardie region, and from the city of Soissons. This makes them fairly unique. And their approach to office space is even more distinctive. They have been granted a campus of old army buildings to renovate and house the free software companies.

This was my second visit to meet with Jean-Marc Loire, Pierre Jarret, and Francois Desarmenien. They are really a class act and a good group to be associated with. They combine an effective approach to working with the system, a true belief that free software and open source can energize a population, plus an energetic and responsive approach to helping poor souls like me. Certainly the last point is quite appreciated .

On the way to dinner that night, I asked Pierre if it snowed much in Picardie. "Almost never" was the reply.

The next morning we were joined by my good friend Nicolas Pettiaux from Belgium. Nicolas is in the Belgian administration and is a strong, effective advocate of free software in government. He's extremely enthusiastic about Zope and Python. I often watch in admiration as he does a little arm-twisting on someone about Zope.

We started by going through the proposed constitution for the association. We covered the points I had mentioned in email previously, then got the group's input on the whole document. We then took a detour into the budget, a subject of great importance to me. We answered about half the questions on the budget, then wrapped up the first draft of the constitution before breaking for lunch.

In the afternoon we convened with the "expert comptable", meaning the certified public accountant. At last, progress on the vexing questions. We started with the background of the "Association Zope Europe" and its plan of operation. We then spent almost three hours going through the consitution in great detail. This ensured that the ZEA will be on firm legal footing.

After that, the next two hours were devoted to tax and financial matters. We went through my long list of questions and got specific, accurate, take-it-to-the-bank answers on all of them. Plus numerous critical suggestions. We then took a tour of the budget and brought it to a state that we could all agree with.

As we wrapped up, a feeling of tremendous relief came over me. For months I had tried to get firm, legal answers to a host of questions, and SIL provided the expert advice at their own expense. Wow!

Afterwards, Francois and Pierre reviewed the statues and we all signed the necessary paperwork. They then prepared the first resolution, printed it, and signed that as well.

Early this week (06 Jan) they are taking the papers to city hall, at which point we'll legally exist! Hooray! They will then open the bank account and we can start getting things done.

I'm working on getting the constitution translated to English, at which point I can get the website up-to-date.

Nicolas also agreed to have his Cocof project participate in the Zope pavilion at SolutionsLinux in Paris. Over dinner we also discussed the Les Trophees du Libre competition for the free software trophy. They invited me to be on the jury.

After a nice dinner and a good discussion afterwards, we called it a night. The next morning we awoke to a freak snowstorm.

Totally bizarre. We left for the train station with plenty of time for the one hour drive, but at a rate under 30 kilometers per hour, we clearly weren't going to make it in time. We turned around to go back, only to find detours that led us to a country road. With the snow, we couldn't see anything and wound up stuck behind a line of trapped cars. Three hours later and we were towed out. I rescheduled for a train from Paris that evening, but the drive to Paris led to another hour of the same.

So what came of all this? Besides a solid association, budget, and all the good work from SIL, I also have...videos! Proof of the foul weather incident and quick visual tour of SIL's campus.

The next was slow, but smooth, arriving home in the afternoon. Again, bizarre!