‘We pay too much in taxes’, plead the French

As a European commissioner accused France of “crossing a red line” with its high taxes a survey suggested the French public have also had enough of their infamous tax man with seven out of ten believing they are now handing over too much to the state.

'We pay too much in taxes', plead the French
"The French see themselves paying taxes, but don’t feel they get enough back in return." Poll finds 72 percent of French feel they pay too much tax. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

Have the famously tax tolerant French public finally had enough?

Some 72 percent of them feel they now pay too much in taxes, according to a new poll by Ipsos, published in French daily Le Monde on Monday.

The French have long accepted the principle of paying high taxes in return for top quality public services but with more than seven out of ten French tax payers of the view they are being hit too hard in the pocket, perhaps the traditional view is changing.

Monday's survey comes not long after France announced its 2014 budget which included more tax hikes.

Although 57 percent of those surveyed said they saw paying taxes as part of the role of being a French citizen , it meant almost half (43 percent) felt it "wasn’t really", or "wasn’t at all" an "act of citizenship".

In an analysis article last month titled "Why do the French Tolerate Such high Taxes", The Economist magazine suggested "the social contract", between the French and the state, "could be on the verge of breaking down".

"Over the past year, as taxes on beer and cigarettes have risen, tax-free overtime abolished, tax deductions squeezed and tax-band thresholds frozen, even the French have started to grumble," The Economist noted.

To add to the evidence that the French have reached tipping point 74 percent of respondents thought they weren’t gaining enough benefit from the complicated French welfare system funded by their tax and social charges contributions.

“In other words,” the Ipsos survey concluded, “the French people see themselves paying taxes, but they don’t feel they get enough back in return.”

SEE ALSO: French Budget 2014 – How are you affected?

French taxes have 'crossed the red line'

The survey comes on the same day that Frenchman Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, slammed the French tax system, in remarks prepared for an address to the National Assembly.

“We have crossed the red line. There is too much tax in France, with results that don’t always match it,” said Barnier.

“Public spending in our country has now reached 57 percent of GDP – that’s 12 percentage points higher than in Germany,” he added.

The European Commission is due in November to render a ruling on each EU member state’s budget.

Barnier isn’t the first senior EU official to condemn France’s increased taxes in recent months. In August, The Local reported how European Commission Vice-president Ollie Rehn warned French taxes had reached a “critical level.”

“Introducing new taxes could have the effect of stemming any growth and impact heavily on unemployment figures,” Rehn told French weekly newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche at the time.

“Budgetary discipline must begin with a cut in public spending,” he added.

In response Eric Heyer, from the French Economic Observatory told The Local: “It’s ridiculous to say France’s tax rises have reached a ‘critical level’. There’s no study or report that has been carried out to back-up what he says.

“France’s taxes are high and it might not be best idea to raise them at this moment of time, but to suggest they have reached a critical level is wrong,” Heyer said.

“Suggesting it will be a catastrophe if France introduces more tax hikes is just not true.In September, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said that the forthcoming budget would bring France's 2013 public deficit to 4.1 percent of GDP, higher than the 3.9 percent previously agreed with the European Union.

Moscovici said the 2014 deficit will come in at 3.6 percent and that France plans to push it back under the EU ceiling of 3.0 percent of GDP in 2015, which is the agreed deadline with Brussels.

In May, the European Commission gave France an additional two years to bring its public deficit back under the EU ceiling.

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French boss runs firm from desert island beach

One day last year, French businessman Gauthier Toulemonde, pondered a seemingly insane question. Could he run his company from a tiny, remote desert island thousands of miles away? The French Robinson Crusoe just came back home with the answer.

French boss runs firm from desert island beach
Gauthier Toulemonde, who spend 40 days running his business from a desert island. Photo: Gauthier Toulemonde/AFP

Who is Gauthier Toulemonde?

He’s a 54-year-old businessman, publisher and journalist from Lille in northern France.

Why is he in the news this week?

Toulemonde has just returned from a particularly unusual business trip, which the French media have been desperate to hear about.

In the middle of October, he set off on his own for a 40-day trip to a remote, tiny, desert island in Indonesia – surely the most extreme act of telecommuting in business history.

The “WebRobinson” project, as he called it, aimed to “fulfil a boyhood dream,” and to test whether working remotely – very remotely – can really function.

What inspired him to go to such extremes?

Perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who’s done nine-to-five in a crowded city – it was the daily commute that finally caused Toulemonde to snap.

“I found myself in Gare Saint Lazare [in Paris] last December, watching the continuous flood of people going by,” he told Paris Match, five weeks into his trip.

“They had this sad look on them, even though they were carrying Christmas presents. My idea had been growing for a while, but I decided on that day to leave.”

Another day at the office for Gauthier Toulemonde. Photo: Sophie Fournier/Youtube

Was it easy to plan?

Not exactly. It took him six months to locate the island he would be wilfully stranded on for six weeks, after being turned down by the Indonesian government on several occasions.

In fact, Toulemonde is legally obliged by them not to reveal the exact location of the 700-by-500-metre island, one of 17,000 in the Indonesian archipelago.

When he began his 24-hour journey on October 8th, all he brought with him was four towel-sized solar panels, rations of rice and pasta, a phone and, of course, his laptop.

He set up his tent, which was just strong enough to keep out the torrential rain that afflicted him for several days during the trip, and tried his best to keep the rats, snakes and lizards at bay.

Beyond that, Toulemonde put in six average weeks of work – if we’re only counting man hours.

So how it did go?

Well, Toulemonde got back alive, anyway.

Allowing himself a total budget of €10,000 for the adventure, and €20 a day for internet, Toulemonde told Paris Match that his company Timbopresse was able to publish two editions of “Stamps Magazine” while he was away, by the same deadlines and with the same content as normal.

He would wake at 5am every day, and usually get to bed at around midnight. To bolster his food supplies from time to time, he fished in the sea, and scavenged for vegetables.

Apart from that, though – he worked, sending emails back and forth with his 10 employees 10,000 km away in France.

He made the occasional phone call towards the beginning, but stopped after it became too expensive.

Gauthier Toulemonde, suffering through the daily commute to work. Photo: S. Fournier/Youtube

As productive as he was, did six weeks without seeing or hearing another person not drive him mad?

 “Those 40 days, for me it was like being in quarantine,” he told Le Figaro after returning to France. “I used the time as a detox from modern life.”

“What gave me most joy was living – stripped bare – in the closest possible contact with nature. Every day was magical,” he told Paris Match.

What was the worst thing about the trip?

In his own words, he wasn’t too keen on all the rats and snakes, but the only thing he really feared was having his internet cut off.

He admitted, around the 30-day mark, that he did miss seeing other people, and could have gone for a good bowl of moules frites.

So is it possible to go to a desert island on the other side of the planet and still do your job?

Yes, but not indefinitely, says Toulemonde.

“Telecommuting really works,” he told Paris Match excitedly, during the trip. But having completed the full 40 days, the magazine editor and former banker appears to have softened his stance.

“Doing everything virtually has its limits,” he told Le Figaro. “Working from distance might be doable, but nothing can replace human contact,” he concluded.

Do you work from home in France? Do you miss human contact?