Gerard Depardieu, 64 years old before the year’s end, is an actor of great range and talent. He could play the naïve, finally broken farmer in Jean de Florette; the heroic, swashbuckling, great-nosed Cyrano de Bergerac; the slobbish but romantic Georges in Green Card…and so on, and on, through scores of films and TV series, made at a rate of nearly five a year for over forty years. He acquired a fortune, restaurants, vineyards and many awards, capped by the Legion d’Honneur.
Earlier this month, he became an expatriate to escape French taxes. He returned his passport to the government, and moved from Paris to the village of Nechin in Belgium, just over the French border, where he joined a community of the French rich. They live there to enjoy the low taxes on stock and capital gains – low compared to those in France, where the Socialist government has imposed a marginal tax rate of 75 percent on incomes over 1 million euros ($1.2m).
He leaves in bitterness, with the curses of his government ringing in his ears. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Prime Minister, said he was “shirking his patriotic duties.” He said that the rich were leaving “because they want to get even richer… we cannot fight poverty if those with the most – sometimes with a lot – do not show solidarity and a bit of generosity.”
For his part, Depardieu claimed he had paid 145 million euros ($190 million) in taxes in his career. “I am leaving,” he wrote in the Journal du Dimanche, “because you (the government) believe success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned.”
In the markets and global financial institutions there’s a story building that France is a failure, and maybe even the next sick man of Europe. Louis Gallois, a prominent business figure, produced – on President Francois Hollande’s invitation – a report in October on how to buck up France’s economy, calling for a “competitiveness shock” that would include relaxing rigid labor laws and cutting taxes. These run counter to much in the Hollande program – he’s raised taxes, threatened to nationalize an Indian-owned steel plant that is closing and insisted that a 35-hour week, introduced by a previous Socialist government and much reduced by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, will stay. In an interview, Gallois said that “there is not actually a consensus in France that companies must be competitive to create value” – a serious charge. The president welcomed the report, moved to implement some of it, then seemed to retreat.