French berate billionaire who wants to become Belgian

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.

Michel Euler/AP/File
Bernard Arnault, CEO of Louis Vuitton, is shown in this February 2009 file photo.

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.

The core idea is austerity with the added element of growth, seen in Scandinavian-style “flex-work” plans that cut the amount of time French workers stay unemployed.

The labor market and financing of social security are “the two structural weaknesses of the French economy,” says Philippe Waechter, senior head of economic research at Natixis Asset Management in Paris. “The question is whether the environment, the will, and the spirit of cooperation here will allow these reforms to be successful. I’m still pretty skeptical.”

Le Monde, the French paper of record, today compared Hollande to Gerhard Schroeder, the German Social Democrat, who began to turn Germany around 10 years ago with an ambitious industrial plan.

Mr. Waechter dismissed the German comparison, arguing that Mr. Schroeder conducted his focused reforms at a time Germany was still flooding former East Germany with cash, before the euro crisis, and when other nations in Europe were buying German exports at a rapid rate.

“In 2002 to 2004, Schroeder benefited from growth and exports from Germany by Europe and countries such as Spain, Italy, or France," he says. “Now we are in a situation where activity is low everywhere….”

Yet in France, patriotic activity seemed to get a boost, at least at the expense of Arnault. Hollande yesterday said the fashion tycoon, who also left France for the US during the last Socialist government of François Mitterand, "should have measured what it means to apply for citizenship to another country. In this period, we need to appeal to patriotism."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to French berate billionaire who wants to become Belgian
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today