France mulls wealth tax changes as protests in­ten­sify

The Guardian Australia - - News / World News - Kim Will­sher in Paris

The French gov­ern­ment will con­sider rein­tro­duc­ing taxes on the most wealthy in what is seen as a fur­ther mea­sure to ap­pease the gilets jaunes pro­test­ers threat­en­ing to desta­bilise Em­manuel Macron’s pres­i­dency.

Lift­ing part of the ISF or sol­i­dar­ity tax was a pil­lar of Macron’s elec­tion cam­paign and one of the first fis­cal mea­sures he took on tak­ing power in May 2017, lead­ing to his nick­name “pres­i­dent of the rich”.

On Wed­nes­day, as gilets jaunes (yel­low vests)vowed to con­tinue protests that have seen parts of Paris in flames and vi­o­lent clashes with po­lice, the gov­ern­ment’s spokesman Ben­jamin Griveaux ad­mit­ted ISF could be reim­posed.

“If the mea­sure we have taken doesn’t work, we’re not idiots, we’ll change it. But first we will have to eval­u­ate it,” Griveaux told RTL ra­dio. Griveaux added that the eval­u­a­tion would hap­pen next year.

Rein­tro­duc­ing the wealth tax has been one of the de­mands of parts of the gilets jaunes move­ment that grew out of anger at ris­ing taxes on petrol and diesel.

The gov­ern­ment has been forced into a change of di­rec­tion af­ter last Satur­day’s scenes of run­ning clashes with po­lice, torched cars and build­ings and smashed shop fronts in one of Paris’s most ex­clu­sive ar­eas, as well as dam­age to the Arc de Tri­om­phe in a third week of protests.

On Tues­day, the French prime min­is­ter, Édouard Philippe, tried to calm the civil un­rest by an­nounc­ing a freeze on the fuel price rises and on the cost of elec­tric­ity and gas.

Thomas Mi­ral­lès, an un­of­fi­cial spokesman for the gilets jaunes move­ment in Per­pig­nan, said it was too lit­tle, too late.

“This looks very much like a kind of win­ter truce, a way of get­ting through Christ­mas peace­fully,” Mi­ralles said. “Who’s to say the gov­ern­ment will not come back in force with these taxes in the spring?”

Var­i­ous gilets jaunes or­gan­is­ers have called for wider so­cial re­forms, in­clud­ing a rise in the min­i­mum wage and higher taxes on in­ter­na­tional gi­ants such as Google and Ama­zon.

Eas­ing the Im­pôt de sol­i­dar­ité sur la for­tune (ISF) for the wealthy was de­scribed by one po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor as Macron’s “orig­i­nal sin” and has been seen as so­cially di­vi­sive com­ing at a time when or­di­nary French work­ers have felt in­creas­ingly squeezed.

The ISF was im­posed on those worth more than €1.3m in­clud­ing their main res­i­dence. It has been re­placed by the Im­pôt sur la for­tune im­mo­bil­ière (ISI), which in ef­fect lifted or re­duced the tax on cer­tain prop­erty, share port­fo­lios and life as­sur­ances.

Last year, prime min­is­ter Édouard Philippe said the move would make the coun­try more at­trac­tive to in­vestors and stop the wealthy leav­ing France. Those with more ob­vi­ous signs of wealth such as yachts and lux­ury cars have seen their tax­a­tion raised.

The ISI was in­tro­duced in De­cem­ber 2017 and came into ef­fect Jan­uary 2018. Griveaux has said it will take be-

tween 18 and 24 months to see if the new tax has the de­sired ef­fect of bring­ing in even more rev­enue.

The gilets jaunes, as their move­ment gath­ers pace, have been call­ing for another day of ac­tion on Satur­day while try­ing to or­gan­ise some kind of pop­u­lar lead­er­ship. Pre­vi­ous at­tempts have led to threats against pro­tes­tors putting them­selves for­ward to give me­dia in­ter­views or meet elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

An­dré Lan­née, in a Face­book video, sug­gested or­gan­is­ing ref­er­enda to elect two gilets jaunes-rep­re­sen­ta­tives for ev­ery re­gion. He said: “I in­vite ev­ery­one to spread this mes­sage and sign up to the group for each re­gion. These are groups solely for ref­er­enda.”

He sug­gested po­ten­tial can­di­dates should post a short mes­sage putting them­selves for­ward but avoid­ing pol­i­tics be­cause “peo­ple have had enough of politi­cians”. Face­book fol­low­ers would be in­vited to “like” the can­di­dates. “One like equals one vote … the two del­e­gates will be those who have the most likes,” Lan­née said.

He said once elected and with the help of vol­un­teer lawyers the group could then pro­pose new leg­is­la­tion.

“We will ar­rive at the Elysée with a de­mand. It will be an of­fi­cial del­e­ga­tion, le­git­i­mate as it has been elected by pop­u­lar ref­er­enda. We are not go­ing to smash any­thing up, there is no in­ter­est in smash­ing up our coun­try.” He added: “We let noth­ing go; we con­tinue.”

An IFOP poll showed Macron’s pop­u­lar­ity had dropped to a new low of 23%. Var­i­ous opin­ion polls showed up to 80% of French peo­ple sup­ported the gilets jaunes but an even higher num­ber dis­ap­proved of the vi­o­lence car­ried out by a fringe of pro­tes­tors.

Pho­to­graph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Em­manuel Macron in­spects the protest af­ter­math in Paris on 2 De­cem­ber. The move­ment has grown to en­com­pass wider anger against hisgov­ern­ment.

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