French press review 29 February 2012

Most of this morning's front pages lead on an annoucement by François Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate in the forthcoming French Presidential elections, that he will tax the super-rich.


In a declaration which the right-wing daily Le Figaro says surprised everyone, Hollande proposes to tax France's super-rich at a rate of 75 per cent on earnings that surpass one million euros a year.

The paper says Hollande hopes to please the most left-wing of his potential supporters and present himself as "the candidate of the people", in contrast to his rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy, "the candidate of the rich".

The paper's editorial bellows that "War has been declared on 'the rich'." Evidently, the elevated tax would target around 3,000 people. For whom, Le Figaro says, few French people would shed a tear. However, the paper cautions that this is just the tip of the iceberg. First it'll be the super-rich, then the rich, then the less rich, then those who are neither rich nor poor, that's to say the middle class. Le Figaro tells readers that Hollande has said that "wealth" begins at an income of 4,000 euros a month.

And it reminds us of the words of a former Socialist prime minister, Laurent Fabius, that "the left can't be beaten by the right. But it can be beaten by taxes."

Left-wing Libération also pounces on the story with a front-page picture of a huge, luxury yacht. Presumably, a typical indulgence of the very rich. And an unsubtle reminder than Hollande's rival, Sarkozy, has been a guest on such grandiose boats.

Inside the paper notes that Hollande's supertax would affect just 0.01 per cent of French people. It spotlights a few of them, including the bosses of cosmetics giant L'Oréal and Renault-Nissan, who pocket around 10 million euros. Financiers such as Benjamin de Rothschild. The footballer Javier Pastore, who plays for Ligue Un club Paris Saint-Germain and pockets 350,000 euros per month. And entertainers, such as Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin at 2,3 million euros in 2010 and, after the success of his movie the Artist, soon to be richer still.

Libération takes the view that Hollande's proposal makes only a small contribution to the fiscal revolution that France needs to balance taxes and justice. It is no more than "symbolic" the paper says. Libé think the country's widening inequalities are "indecent." It is undeniable that executive pay increases have far outpaced rises for ordinary people in recent years.

The financial daily Les Echos observes that, if Hollande's proposal is implemented, France would overtake Sweden where supertax is charged at just over 56 per cent, to become the country that taxes the rich most heavily. The paper's editorial argues that such an excessive measure would not be in France's economic interests. It's legitimate to use taxes to limit income it is not acceptable to confiscate. It may even be declared unconstitutional, says Les Echos.

The Catholic daily La Croix opines that in proposing the supertax Hollande has lost all sense of balance. Better to widen the possibilities for charitable contributions from the rich. Taxes should not be punitive, as the left often thinks, says La Croix. Taxes must be constructive.

The centrist paper Le Monde, which carries today's date but is actually published in the afternoon of the previous day, is still celebrating the success of the French silent film the Artist which collected five Oscars at the annual Academy Awards shindig in Los Angeles.

"French Triumph in Hollywood" is the front-page headline with a photo of Best Actor Jean Dujardin, the two-million-euro man mentioned earlier, holding his Oscar statuette aloftwith a cry of "Formidable!"

Formidable, indeed, given the usual lack of recognition afforded by the Academy to often brilliant French film-makers.

Le Monde can't resist a political joke. Further down the page the paper's cartoonist, Plantu, sketches a goofy-looking President Nicolas Sarkozy clutching a golden Oscar with the text, "Best actor for Sarko?" Note the question mark. A voice in the audience regrets that, unlike the prize-winning movie, he isn't silent.

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