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DEFICIT

‘Amateurism’ sees France forced to pay back €10 billion in tax to big companies

France said Wednesday it has been ordered to pay back 10 billion euros ($12 billion) to big companies after overtaxing them on dividend payouts, a cost that threatens to blow French deficit targets off course.

'Amateurism' sees France forced to pay back €10 billion in tax to big companies
Photo: AFP
The Constitutional Council, France's highest constitutional authority, ruled that a tax of three percent on dividend payments, introduced in 2012, was illegal, government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.
   
The tax was first levied by former French president Francois Hollande's government and had already been challenged in the courts, including before the European Court of Justice, before the French Constitutional Council finally declared it unconstitutional.
  
President Emmanuel Macron's administration will now have to find the money to reimburse companies, a budgetary effort that will throw a spanner in the works of fiscal consolidation.
   
“Legal amateurism led to the biggest tax gift ever handed to companies in this country,” Castaner said, in a clear reference to the Hollande government.
   
The finance ministry may include the new spending in an updated budget plan, or mini-budget, later in the year, he said.
   
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire meanwhile blamed “bad decisions taken by my predecessors”.
 
Macron's government, anticipating problems with the tax, had already decided not to renew it for next year's budget and planned to set aside 5.7 billion euros to reimburse companies, but over five years and only starting in 2018.
 
Castaner did not elaborate on how exactly the ministry now plans to cover the much-bigger-than-expected sum, which reports say will have to be paid out immediately, but unless massive budget cuts or new taxes are made it will deepen the public sector deficit.
 
By way of comparison, the new cost represents two thirds of the 15 billion euros the government said it would find in new savings next year, and far exceeds the seven billion it has promised in tax cuts.
 
France has promised that it will keep its deficit to below 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year as required by eurozone rules, the
first time France would meet that target in a decade.
 
But France's 2.9 percent objective — which it says is key to boosting its credibility in Europe as Macron eyes a shake-up of the European Union — now
looks elusive.
 
Before the court ruling, France had budgeted for a deficit of around 76.5 billion euros for this year, and around 83 billion for 2018.
 
Le Maire said all options how to settle the bill would be explored and he was planning to meet as early as next week with companies and employers'
associations to seek solutions.
 
He said the tax concerned mostly “the biggest French companies”, with his ministry adding that that half of the total money is owed to only 13 firms.
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ECONOMY

The vocab you need to understand French taxes

Declaring and paying taxes in France can be a complicated affair, especially for first-timers, and the intricate French vocabulary does not exactly simplify the process. This language guide might help.

The vocab you need to understand French taxes
Illustration photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

If you are encountering the French tax system for the first time, just looking at the various forms can make you dizzy, as the vocab isn’t exactly everyday-French.

Even French natives sometimes struggle to understand what they are being asked about, which is why the government has created a tax lexicon (available HERE).

It is 23 pages long, but we have picked out the key terms and added a few that might be unfamiliar to foreigners.

If, however, you are looking for a specific term that doesn’t appear in the list below, we recommend you check the official guide. 

We have also explained in detail how to fill out the annual tax declaration HERE.

Nom – as with all French forms, nom refers specifically to your surname or family name. Your prénom (first name) comes later. Tax forms generally ask for your nom de naissance which is the family name you were born with (even if you have changed your name through marriage) and will then ask for nom auquel vos courriers seront adressés or name for correspondence to be addressed to.

EXPLAINED: What’s in a name? Understanding how to fill out forms in France

Avis d’imposition – tax notice. This is for your annual tax return. If your main residence is in France you must fill in a tax return – even if all your income comes from another country. France has double taxation agreements with most countries, so if you have already paid tax on, say, income from a rental property in the UK you will not be liable for more tax in France on the same income. But you must still tell the French tax man about it.

EXPLAINED: Who has to make a tax declaration in France in 2021?

Déclarant – refers to the person declaring the taxes. The verb is déclarer and un déclarant is la personne qui déclare – the person who declares. The form has spaces for two déclarants because married couples and those in a civil partnership file a joint return. If you are declaring as a single person just ignore the column for déclarant 2.

Foyer fiscal – tax household. France bases taxes on the household and you will be asked about it in detail when filling out your declaration. Couples who are married or in a civil union (Pacs) should make one joint declaration rather than two. If you got married halfway through the year you can now declare one common declaration for the whole year.

Etat civil – civil status. Choose between célibataire (single), marié (married) or Pacsé (in a civil partnership). 

Parent isolé – single parent. This only goes for those who were not living with a partner on December 31st the year before declaring the taxes. If you got divorced, separated or lost your partner after that date, you have to wait until next year to declare it. In addition to parents, this category also includes singles who are taking care of a disabled person.

Enfant mineur – child under 18 years old.

Enfant majeur – a child over 18 years old. Parents in France may attach their adult child to their tax declaration until the age of 25, under certain conditions.

READ ALSO: What the French government doesn’t tell you about filing taxes

Personne à charge – means ‘person to take care of’, and means that you have a person in your household that you are financially responsible for, usually referred to in English as a dependant. 

Concubinage – a couple who live together but aren’t married or in a civil partnership. If that’s you, you’re not allowed to tick the box of parent isolé if you have children.

Numéro de sécurité sociale – social security number. If you’re registered with French social security this number (15 figures) appears on your Carte Vitale health card and if you’re an employee it should appear on your payslips. If you don’t have a social security number in France, tick the box “pas de numéro de sécurité sociale“.

Prélèvement à la source – This sounds confusing, because it’s sometimes translated as “withholding tax”. However it just means the tax that is automatically deducted from your salary each month if you are an employee. Usually referred to in English as ‘taxation at source’ or PAYE (pay as you earn), it’s a relatively recent innovation in France.

READ ALSO: The French tax calendar for 2021 – which taxes are due when?

Revenus des indépendants – income for the self-employed. Whereas employees get their taxes deducted automatically from their payslip, self-employed people, contractors or freelancers have to declare all their income and social benefits, if any, on their tax declarations. 

Micro-entrepreneur – this is a specific professional status that self-employed people may opt for if their income is below a certain threshold. It used to be known an auto-entrepreneur.

Comptes à l’étranger – foreign bank accounts. If you have a bank account in a country other than France, you have to declare that to the tax man, or risk a €1,500 fine (€10,000 for those with an account in a country that doesn’t have a tax evasion deal with France) per account. New international banking rules aimed at money-launderers mean it is increasingly easy for countries to find out this information.

Contribution à l’audiovisuel public – this means ‘contribution to the public audiovisual’. It is the French equivalent of a TV licence and is paid by almost everyone. You pay it if you have a TV in your property, even if you don’t watch French TV.

Abattement – rebates. France has a long list of specific tax rebates, some of which are directed professional groups while others go to parents for costs like childcare and domestic help. Find out more about the deductions available here.

Paiement en ligne – online payment.

Coordonnées bancaires – bank information (such as the account holder’s name, account number, BIC and IBAN) you are given the option to add this to your tax declaration so that payments can be taken – or refunds credited – directly.

Taxe d’habitation – the housing tax paid by those living in a property, not the owner, is in the process of being phased out and most people won’t have to pay it this year. However second home owners are excluded from the phasing out and still have to pay it, bar a few exceptions. This is separate to the annual tax declaration and bills are sent out in the autumn.

Taxe foncière – this is the tax for property owners, second home owners pay both this and the taxe d’habitation. The tax on property owners has risen in many areas over the past couple of years.

READ ALSO What is taxe foncière and do I have to pay it?

Revenus fonciers – this means ‘property income’, but it only refers to income coming from properties that are rented out unfurnished. If you rent out a furnished property that also has to be declared, but under the box called bénéfices industriels et commerciaux (BIC).

READ ALSO: Five things to know about renting out your holiday home in France

Micro foncier – the box to tick if the revenus fonciers are up to €15,000 annually, which allows for a 30 percent tax rebate on the gross income.

Régime réel – the box to tick if the revenus fonciers exceed €15,000 annually, in which case there won’t be any tax rebate available.

Pensions – pensions. You have to declare any pensions you receive, whichever type it may be, even if they are paid by another country. There are several other similar terms that belong to the same category as pensions.

Allocations – economic help schemes.

Indemnités – allowances.

Retraites – pensions.

Rentes – annuities. 

Prime – bonus.

Revenu brut – gross revenue.

Revenut net – net revenue.

Demande gracieuse – means ‘gracious request’ and is what you may do if, upon receiving your tax notice, you realise you could have paid less tax if you had ticked a different box somewhere or given additional information. The term ‘gracious’ is there to signify that the tax man can choose to accommodate your request if he so pleases, but there’s no rule saying he has to. As a general policy we would recommend always being very polite to tax authorities.

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