ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les riches plus nombreux en 2010
by Paule Masson
Translated Sunday 25 July 2010, by Bill Scobleand reviewed by
The French are being asked to tighten their belts, yet at the same time, 562 thousand taxpayers have made a wealth tax declaration: that’s 23 thousand more than last year.
This figure alone nicely sums up the inequalities of the widening wealth gap in France. The first figures published by France’s Budget minister have shown that, compared with the same period last year, 23 thousand more taxpayers have made a wealth tax declaration in 2010.
At one end of the scale, barely one out of two taxpayers is liable for income tax. Individuals over the age of sixty-five and earning less than 9,080 euros a year and those aged sixty-five or under and earning less than 8,310 euros a year are exempt from income tax.
At the other end of the scale, 562 thousand taxpayers with a personal wealth of more than 790,000 euros have so far sent off a wealth tax declaration, compared with 539 thousand by the same date last year. France’s rich list is growing and what’s more, the rich are getting richer. The sum total of wealth tax has gone up to 3.29 billion euros this year. compared to the 3.13 billion paid in July 2009.
A slight slowdown in 2009
Francois Baroin, France’s Budget Minister, has told the press that “exhaustive and definitive statistics will be established at the beginning of 2011”. Following the all-time high reached in 2007 (when 4 billion euros were raised by the wealth tax) and a good performance in 2008 in spite of the start of the financial crisis (3.81 billion), the rich experienced a slight slowdown in 2009, but should see a recovery this year.
While the French are being asked to tighten their belts in order to reduce the national debt, the wealthiest individuals are the first to benefit from tax breaks. Francois Baroin has acknowledged that headway is being made with the tax reductions prescribed by the Tepa Law,  mentioning in particular the measure which allows individuals to obtain a reduction of close to 75% on investments in small and medium size businesses. The 140,043 wealth tax reductions obtained this way represent a loss of state earnings of 838 million euros! Created in 2007 along with the tax shield, this measure is being used more and more by the wealthiest individuals looking to secure a tax rebate.
Passing the reins
The MEDEF, France’s largest union for employers, will often take matters into their own hands in order to help investors choose their projects. Take the Lyon-Rhone MEDEF branch for example, which organized a meet-and-greet between individuals liable for wealth tax and entrepreneurs in March this year. The idea, defended by the regional employers union, is that it is better for a wealthy individual who has already achieved “success” to pass the reins to a younger business leader instead of handing over funds to the state as a “loss”.
The tax shield is also known for providing a certain number of big checks to the wealthiest individuals. In 2009 more than 99% of the money paid back went to taxpayers liable for wealth tax. Liliane Bettencourt, the third richest individual in France, was able to recover 30 million euros; that’s more than 5% of the total cost to the budget.
 Law of 21st August 2007 concerning Work, Employment and Purchasing Power