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France backs off art tax after museum revolt

After an angry backlash from France’s biggest museums, including the world-famous Louvre, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has scrapped a measure to tax works of art that exceed €50,000 in value as part of a planned reform of the wealth tax.

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Works of art will not be included in a new bill to reform France’s wealth tax, or ISF, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault declared on Tuesday, back-pedalling on a measure championed by Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac.

The decision came after uproar from France’s art community over the proposed levy, with the presidents of France’s seven biggest museums signing an angry letter to France’s culture ministry last week. The museum chiefs complained in the October 12 letter that the tax would compromise their mission with the public and weaken their institutions.

"Art and wealth tax: The museums' revolt", reads October 16 headline of French daily Libération.
"Art and wealth tax: The museums' revolt", reads October 16 headline of French daily Libération.

Two days before the letter was sent, the finance commission of France’s lower-house National Assembly voted in favour of an amendment to tax works of art valued over 50,000 euros as part of France’s tax on the super rich.

However, Ayrault sought to calm tensions, telling Europe 1 radio of Tuesday “Works of art will not be integrated in the equation for the wealth tax.”

“Intellectual and political regression”

Earlier in the day, left-leaning daily Libération called the move by France’s Socialist-led parliament “grotesque” and “an intellectual and political regression”. In an editorial the newspaper warned such a tax would put France’s museums in peril and scare-off potential art collectors to other cities.

“This measure is grotesque. First of all, because, even according to those who defend it, it will bring nothing or almost nothing to the state’s budget. But it will disorganise the fragile ecosystem that allows exhibitions to come together, art historians to work, and our cultural institutions to draw in visitors.”

France’s new Socialist-led government has sought to impose new or higher taxes on the country’s highest earners in a push to reduce the public debt.

In a state budget unveiled last month the government confirmed its pledge to tax earnings above 1 million euros per year at a 75% rate.

(FRANCE24 with wires)

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