A day after French President Hollande made his case for new taxes, the public responded angrily to a report that its richest man, Bernard Arnault, was trying to avoid taxes by heading to Belgium.
As French President François Hollande outlined new taxes and spending cuts while promoting reforms to turn the economy around – word leaked out that France’s wealthiest man, Bernard Arnault, was heading for Belgium in a rumored tax dodge.
At first, the timing could not appear to have been worse for the national morale and Mr. Hollande. His tax hikes run 20 billion euros, his spending cuts number 10 billion euros, and his Socialist government must cut public service jobs. In addition, he will hit those with direct salaries over 1 million euros ($1.3 million) with a 75 percent tax.
The French have not forgotten the national shame when British Prime Minister David Cameron told the world from Mexico in early summer that London was “rolling out the red carpet” for wealthy French seeking tax havens.
Yet, instead, in a national spasm of pique, France spent all day making accusations of "traitor" and "ingrate" at the rich guy – Mr. Arnault, worth $41 billion. Citizenry and media launched from all directions a full egalitarian, patriotic attack on the CEO of Louis Vuitton, who said he was seeking dual citizenship in Belgium.
The anti-Arnault frenzy spurred far-left guru Jean-Luc Mélenchon to call him a “parasite,” and far-right darling Marianne Le Pen to proclaim “scandalous" what appears to be a financial exile.
A screaming headline in Libération – “Get Lost You Rich Idiot” – was enough to bring Arnault, who claims he is not leaving France for tax purposes, to call the headline “vulgar” and bring a lawsuit against the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Hollande is moving – plodding, his critics say – on a plan to reform the economy through greater flexibility in hiring and firing, an overhaul of social security, and to do it all in two years.