Foreign Affairs

French artists and entrepreneurs share common enemy: Francois Hollande

French artists and entrepreneurs share common enemy: Francois Hollande

PARIS – What do an entrepreneur and a successful artist have in common? In France, these days, a lot.

Indeed, in several businesses as well as in artistic and ‘chic’ Parisian clubs, the common enemy for both sides is named François Hollande. At a time when everybody in France must do their “fair effort” to put the harshest budget in 30 years on a better track, as the France’s Socialist President announced in May, the ones who earn the most  become, logically, the biggest contributors to this endeavor. He was referring to France’s new 75 percent margin tax on earnings of one million euros a year or more, which takes effect on January 1 and will apply for the next two years.  Along with this tax, there is a rise in the capital gains taxes.

Consequently, French actors or singers are announcing openly they will move out of the country and change their citizenship to avoid this tax. On this front, the breakout came had to come from the strongest ‘Gaulois’, the world-famous actor Gérard Depardieu who refuse to be seized “85 percent of his income this year” –as he wrote in a public letter to the Prime Minister -, and is fleeing to Néchin village on the other side of the Belgian border. Before Depardieu, his friend Christian Clavier, another star of the French cinema, left the Gallic village for London three months ago.

Depardieu’s anger, recently characterized as “selfish” by a member of the French parliament, echoes another lament.  It comes from rich and creative people such as some business “angels” of the web economy and successful CEOs of young start up companies. Less visible than entertainers, they have had to create a brand for themselves: “Les Pigeons,”  which serves as a password on the web.

Since “Les Pigeons” was launched in October, nearly 50,000 such “birds” have flocked to to it through Facebook. To a person, they feel scammed because of the increase of capital gains taxes on equity sales (around 40 percent or 60 percent, depending of established criteria). After putting their digital weapons in silent thanks to a fragile armistice with the Finance Ministry, which made some “adjustments” such as minor tax-exemptions, they intend to relaunch their on-line offensive in January.

“Every day I hear an entrepreneur leaving France to Belgium or to the UK”, says Jean-David Chamboredon, the spokesman of the Pigeons. Indeed, the examples are numerous: Lindsay Owen Jones, previous CEO of l’Oréal, Alain Afflelou, a high end businessman in optic industry or Paul-Loup Sulitzer, writer and consultant, come to mind.

Chamboredon, who is also an investor in digital start-up companies and one of the founders of “Les Pigeons,” told the Financial Times last week: “I want to stay in France and I will continue to fight for a tax regime to make that possible.”

But, he quickly added, “My forecast is that investment by business angels may well decrease by a third or maybe a half in 2013.  There will be hundreds of startups that will die or will not get off the ground.”

But the exodus, as the FT reported, goes on, with Jean-Gil Boitouzet of the on-line brokerage Bourse Direct, basing his new venture in Brussels January 1.

In their new nation, both sides, artists and entrepreneurs may finally agree : “making money is art”, as Andy Warhol discovered in his New York studio.

Jeanne Dussueil is an economic journalist at Challenges. Follow her on Twitter: @jdussueil

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