French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel on Tuesday became probably the first tycoon ever to declare France a "tax haven".
Forget François Hollande's famous 75 percent tax on millionaires and the hefty payroll taxes liberal economists say weigh heavy on French companies; for Niel, the French tax man is presiding, in an undemanding manner, over a "paradis fiscal".
Speaking on the television channel BFM TV, the founder of Free – the country’s second biggest internet provider and third largest mobile phone service – reiterated his previous comments that France is the best place in the world to start a business – even better than the US.
"France is a tax haven. If I'm an entrepreneur and I want to pass on my business, in which country will I pay the least taxes? It's France – where there's only a 23 percent tax on capital gains if I hold on to my company for more than eight years and a five to seven percent tax if I want to pass on my business to my children.
(Xavier Niel – the founder of Free who described France as a fiscal paradise. Photo: AFP)
"In what other country does that model exist," Niel said. "I am invested in and believe in this country. It’s easier to carve your niche in France than it is in the United States.”
Niel also blew the trumpet for France when it came to launching a new business.
"In terms of start up incubators and entrepreneurship, France is the number one country," he said. "In which G20 country is it easiest to create a business? In France, it takes seven days to start a company, where as the average across the G20 countries is 22 days."
Niel also suggested that successful companies will need to push the boundaries of the laws in France.
“You need to hustle with the law. All successful companies like Uber and Airbnb have their brushes with the law. You have to play with these laws to move them along. You can’t cross the line but you can tickle it,” he said.
Niel, who founded the private computer programming school 42, based in Paris, did however acknowledge one problem facing French entrepreneurs wishing to follow in his footsteps, saying: “One thing that does not work in this country is the social ladder. We created 42 to help young people who are talented in the digital domain. They pass the toughest test in the world and those kids who were considered failures in school become geniuses with us.”
It's not the first time in recent days that Niel, who partly owns Le Monde newspaper, has tried to promote an alternative image of France to the one bogged down by bureaucracy and taxes and where entrepreneurs can't wait to head abroad.
Speaking last month as the foundations were laid for his €230 million tech incubator in Paris – due to open in 2016, and which he says will be the world’s largest – Niel said that it was easier now to start a business in France than in Silicon Valley “where everybody copies you”.
He added: “The grass is not greener on the other side. When I travel, I always see French people working in high tech businesses. We train them well, they are great, they are famous throughout the world.”
by Lindsey Johnstone