France culture tax reignites debate: too much levying already?

Bad times for l’Elysée. France has fallen back into its second recession in four years. Therefore, employment, consumer’s confidence and support for the EU are all plummeting. 77 per cent of the French believe European economic integration has been bad for their country’s economy, according to a Washington-based Pew Research Center report. Even eurosceptic Britons give the EU more credit!

One of the consequences of that fall in consumption, along with the increase of Internet downloads, is a huge a drop in revenue from the taxes the government collects on traditional media. To address this situation, the Ministry of Culture has called for a new levy on all electronic devices. By charging consumers a 1% tax on their smart phones or tablets, the government would raise €86 million annually. The funds would go toward funding cultural initiatives.

Paris is also protecting the so-called French cultural exception, protecting certain cultural industries against American influence and other free-market forces. Notwithstanding, this protection scheme hardly gets any support in the US. On this side of the Atlantic it is not uncommon to hear small-government supporters mock the French, their subsidies and their taxes.

“[That] solution is very French: more taxes (…) French politicians always argue that these taxes and subsidies are necessary to support the French culture the French want. But all the subsidies and taxes suggest that what they really fear is that most French don’t want it as much as their betters think they should,” The Wall Street Journal states in an op-ed.

But the left in France doesn’t feel offended. On the contrary, they love their cultural exception. A big part of them are asking for more taxes indeed, as they believe President François Hollande is giving up on a system that had worked well for decades.

“Don’t be mistaken. Of course it is necessary to reduce the deficit, given the state of public finances,” Inequality Observatory Chairman Louis Maurin writes in an op-ed at Le Monde. “The debt is reducing the investment for the next generations, as well as the daily expenditures (…) Saving public money is a must, no matter the economic situation.”

Mr Maurin reckons that France is among the countries with highest public spending in the world. However that comparison makes no sense for him.

“This is due to social protection programs spending, such as healthcare and retirement plans, which are less dependent on private insurers or bankers than elsewhere,” he writes.

Legislators will debate the cultural tax over next summer. As some say, a percent levy on the price of smartphones and tablet computers might not be realistic as culture moves online, but considering taxes as something “very French” is, at least, tricky. Just take the healthcare system, for example, where the US cannot deny its inefficiencies: a third of spending (about $750 billion in 2009) is wasted, as nonpartisan Institute of Medicine explained in a report.

About the Author

Ana Fuentes
Columnist for El País and a contributor to SER (Sociedad Española de Radiodifusión), was the first editor-in-chief of The Corner. Currently based in Madrid, she has been a correspondent in New York, Beijing and Paris for several international media outlets such as Prisa Radio, Radio Netherlands or CNN en español. Ana holds a degree in Journalism from the Complutense University in Madrid and the Sorbonne University in Paris, and a Master's in Journalism from Spanish newspaper El País.

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