|INDIGESTION FOR ‘LES RICHES’ IN A PLAN FOR HIGHER TAXES|
Oranjestad, August 10, 2012 - The call to Vincent Grandil’s Paris law firm began like many others that have rolled in recently. On the line was the well-paid chief executive of one of France’s most profitable companies, and he was feeling nervous.
President François Hollande is vowing to impose a 75 percent tax on the portion of anyone’s income above a million euros ($1.24 million) a year. “Should I be preparing to leave the country?” the executive asked Mr. Grandil.
The lawyer’s counsel: Wait and see. For now, at least.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from high earners who are asking whether they should get out of France,” said Mr. Grandil, a partner at Altexis, which specializes in tax matters for corporations and the wealthy. “Even young, dynamic people pulling in 200,000 euros are wondering whether to remain in a country where making money is not considered a good thing.”
A chill is wafting over France’s business class as Mr. Hollande, the country’s first Socialist president since François Mitterrand in the 1980s, presses a manifesto of patriotism to “pay extra tax to get the country back on its feet again.” The 75 percent tax proposal, which Parliament plans to take up in September, is ostensibly aimed at bolstering French finances as Europe’s long-running debt crisis intensifies.
But because there are relatively few people in France whose income would incur such a tax — an estimated 7,000 to 30,000 in a country of 65 million — the gains might contribute but a small fraction of the 33 billion euros in new revenue the government wants to raise next year to help balance the budget.
The French finance ministry did not respond to requests for an estimate of the revenue the tax might raise. Though the amount would be low, some analysts note that a tax hit on the rich would provide political cover for painful cuts Mr. Hollande may need to make next year in social and welfare programs that are likely to be far less popular with the rank and file.
In that regard, the tax could have enormous symbolic value as a blow for egalité, coming from a new president who has proclaimed, “I don’t like the rich.”
“French people have an uncomfortable relationship with money,” Mr. Grandil said. “Here, someone who is a self-made man, creating jobs and ending up as a millionaire, is viewed with suspicion. This is big cultural difference between France and the United States.”