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That holiday home in France just got costlier
Here in my French fastness, where the wild boar are even more destructive to the garden than the drunks who scream and shout on Friday nights outside my English home, I received the news of François Hollande’s proposed taxes on foreign-owned second houses with what the French call flegme. I don’t rent it out, didn’t buy it as a speculation, and don’t intend to sell it, so taxes on rental income and capital gains will not affect me. Besides, a reduction in the size of an anticipated profit is not quite the same thing as a loss. But I am more fortunately placed than many who are not in a position to keep their sangfroid in the face of Mr Hollande’s announcement.
My house is as we all imagine one in rural France to be: isolated and peaceful, a clear stream babbling through its large garden, the cicadas singing and the bees busy with the lavender. Alas, the peaches are now finished, as are the cherries and wild strawberries, but the apricots and apples are still ripening.
Mr Hollande’s proposals regarding such properties are entirely consistent with his programme, which is to decrease the French budget deficit without reducing the number of his core constituents, the public sector workers. His political calculation is sound, since 75 per cent of French students would like to be civil servants. And on his own admission he does not like the rich, presumably as defined in the normal way by haters of the rich; that is to say, those with more money than they.
The President is no believer in the Laffer curve, according to which, after a certain level, revenues decline as taxes increase. He takes a more citrus fruit view of the matter: you squeeze the lemon until the pips squeak. This is good politics: demagogic taxes on the rich are always popular in countries where most people hope to get more out of the state than they put into it. It is like running a lottery with compulsory contributions in which 55 or 60 per cent of the ticket holders are winners. Such a lottery will always be popular.
Most British people come to France, however, not to avoid taxes, but to avoid their fellow countrymen, especially the younger ones. In France, even the most uncouth people address you as “monsieur”, not “mate”. The burglar who broke into my mother-in-law’s flat in Paris, not expecting her to be there, withdrew with a courteous “Excusez-moi, madame”. An English burglar would have bound and gagged her.
First published in The Telegraph.