Clientele Is Changed, but Monaco's Reputation Is Still Richly Deserved : Europe: The tiny nation remains a playground of the wealthy. But today's visitors are mostly business tycoons, not idle aristocrats.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this glamorous tax haven, money's playground by the sea, the idle rich are making room for the busy, bustling rich.

Aristocrats still risk fortunes at the Casino's velvet-covered tables, but the 380-acre principality is catering to a new breed of wealth and power.

It seeks the working rich who may spend a week in Monaco--not six months like the grand dukes of a century ago--to check on an industrial investment, watch the Grand Prix or attend a business convention.

On a stroll through the Casino gardens, you're more likely to meet carpet salesmen from Toronto than European royalty. Last year, Monaco welcomed 50,000 convention-goers.

Tourism now generates only one-fourth of the $5 billion gross national product. Gambling, once the government's mainstay, brings in only 4%.

Banking accounts for 35% and light industry 27%. Monaco now has 50 banks, and more are coming.

Rainier III, prince of Monaco and ruler since 1949, sought to preserve and capitalize on Monaco's reputation for glamour when he called for economic diversification.

"The government has put its money behind prestige and luxury," said a public relations officer for the principality. "It used to bank on the very rich. Today it has sought to develop a clientele of the slightly less rich."

Hotel statistics are revealing. Monaco has 2,400 rooms, 80% in the luxury category going for $200 to $450. Fewer than 100 rooms cost less than $50.

Officials try to keep industry and tourism apart. Hardly any of the3 million day-trippers who spilled from trains and buses last year went near the industrial park on Fontvieille, a peninsula reclaimed from the sea.

Many of Monaco's 700 industrial companies are there. Most are in such high-tech, non-polluting fields as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and engineering.

A value-added tax on the new commercial activities is the largest source of revenue in Monaco's annual budget of $510 million.

Fontvieille accommodates both factories and company headquarters, stacked atop each other in skyscrapers. Nearby are a new sports stadium, a three-star hotel, a heliport and Monaco's only low-income housing.

It was the brainchild of Prince Rainier, who saw the future in real estate for his tiny realm. A forest of skyscrapers, eyesores to many visitors, looms against a background of steep mountains, dwarfing hillside villas built in the 19th Century.

Commercial or residential space in Monaco generally is more expensive than in Paris and New York. A two-room apartment in Fontvieille rents for $3,000 a month, and cheaper accommodations are difficult to find.

Housing has become a major headache. The government gives priority for state-owned housing and rent subsidies of up to 50% to the natives, called Monegasques, but demand exceeds supply.

Many apartments are owned by investors who spend little time in them. At night, darkened windows make patches on luxury high-rises.

Nightlife revolves around a few expensive discotheques and clubs, and around cultural events geared to the wealthy Establishment.

Young residents complain of little to do. Monaco has only one movie theater, no discount or department stores, and no major shopping center.

There is virtually no unemployment, yet Monegasques--about 4,500 in a population of 27,000--worry about the future.

"The problem is not finding jobs for young Monegasques, it's finding jobs suited to their educational degrees and qualifications," said Stephane Valeri, 28.

He heads the Assn. of Young Monegasques, founded in 1986 to handle their employment and housing problems and help them start businesses. Citizens now own less than 3% of commerce and industry in Monaco, but Valeri said new opportunities have been opening in services and the law.

"We're very attached to our history, our traditions and to the royal family," he said. "We're just trying to make Monaco better for the year 2000."

In addition to the myth that all are rich, which the government tries to dispel, Monegasques have a poor reputation as workers.

"Some Monegasques . . . adopt a superior attitude and feel they can get away with anything because they know they can't be fired," said a government spokesperson on condition of anonymity.

The 5,000 Italians who cross the border each day to work in hotels and restaurants envy the privileges of Monegasques, including comprehensive health insurance, higher wages and the first crack at vacant jobs.

Residents of this fiscal paradise, except for French nationals who have arrived since 1957, pay no taxes on income, capital gains or on an inheritance if it comes directly from a parent or spouse.

Security and respectability are basic tenets. The police force, which has 400 members, help tourists, direct traffic and discourage purse snatching and other crimes.

"Monaco is the type of place where you think twice about dropping candy wrappers," said a retired Greek executive who has lived here 35 years. "You feel very safe, and life is very calm."

A dress code confines bathing suits to the beach and forbids going barefoot. Shorts are permitted, but men are not allowed to go bare-chested. Expulsion from Monaco is the punishment for violations.

Officials know the future depends on physical expansion. Besides putting the train station underground, architects unveiled plans last year for three floating islands with their own stores and homes, connected to the mainland by bridges and ferries.

"It sounds like . . . Jules Verne, but it's something I'm sure my successors will have to deal with," said Jean-Louis Medecin, the mayor.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
63°