France’s Rich Ponder Choice Over Austerity: Fight or Flight?

Actor Gerard Depardieu has taken up residence in Nechin, Belgium, less than a mile from the French border, escaping from a 75 percent tax on incomes above 1 million euros imposed by the French government. He follows billionaire Bernard Arnault, chief executive officer of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, who said in September he’s seeking Belgian citizenship. Depardieu will share the village of Nechin, where a quarter of the population are French, with members of the Mulliez family, associated with France’s Auchan supermarkets, according to Belgium’s Le Soir.

Meanwhile, President Francois Hollande has announced measures designed to improve the lot of France’s poorest citizens. The five-year poverty reduction plan, which will cost 2.5 billion euros, is aimed at the more than 8 million people who live on less than 962 euros a month, or less than 60% of the average income in the country. Among the measures, the subsidy paid to jobless people, the so-called RSA, will be boosted by 10 percent in real terms to equal half the minimum wage of 1,100 euros. The threshold for accessing free health care will be lowered so another half million people receive the benefit, adding to the 4.4 million who already get the service for free.

The government’s intention is to stall the rise in poverty seen in recent years: the number of those living on less than 800 euros a month rose 21 percent to 4.7 million between 2004 and 2010. The number of those living on less than 640 euros rose 40 percent to 2.1 million in the same period.

The conservative opposition see the solution elsewhere. Christian Jacob, head of the UMP’s parliamentary group, called on the government to lower corporate taxes so companies can create jobs. Still, others are choosing flight over fight.

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