From gilt to grey, Paris Elysee hall gets subdued makeover

The most prestigious room in France's grand presidential palace has toned down the gold in favour of a subtle palette of grey after a months-long renovation that was unveiled to the public Friday.

From gilt to grey, Paris Elysee hall gets subdued makeover
Photo: AFP

Out are the regal red carpets and elaborate tasselled tapestries which lined the walls of the Elysee Palace's main reception hall, some of which had hung there for the past 40 years.

In their place are subdued dove grey carpets and curtains embroidered with leaf motifs, against walls bearing the superimposed Rs and Fs of the French Republic.

President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, have made no secret of their desire to update the Elysee, bringing in modern artworks from Pierre Alechinsky, Robert Delauney and Nicolas de Stael to mirror their more progressive tastes.

The 1,000 square meter reception hall, called the Salle des Fetes, is where Macron hosts some 160 state dinners, receptions and other events each year.

The hall, which was inaugurated in 1889, had been closed since November as part of a renovation which cost 500,000 euros — a price tag likely to raise eyebrows at a time when Macron is facing virulent street protests over high cost of living.

The former investment banker has struggled to shake off the label of “president of the rich” coined by critics early on over his tax cuts for business and wealthy investors.

He famously told an unemployed gardener in September he only had to “cross the road” to find work.

The following month he told a retiree complaining about tax hikes on pensions that the French “did not realise the luck they have” and they should stop complaining.

The government argues the restoration work is necessary — the Elysee palace building dates from the early 18th century — after being put off for years, and points to its launch of a new collection of Elysee-branded memorabilia to help defray the costs.

“We take the responsibility of conserving these historic monuments very seriously… while also taking into account the limits on our public spending,” an Elysee official said.

The hall is intended to be “a showcase of French excellence and craftsmanship”, the official said.

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Macron dilutes pledge to end ‘exit tax’ on high earners

France will keep a less restrictive version of its "exit tax" on wealthy people who take assets out of the country, and not completely scrap it as President Emmanuel Macron pledged earlier this year.

Macron dilutes pledge to end 'exit tax' on high earners
President Emmanuel Macron meets visitors to the Elysée Palace during an open day on Saturday. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/Pool/AFP
The 30 percent levy was introduced by former president Nicolas Sarkozy to keep top earnings from leaving France for countries with lower tax rates.
But Macron said in May he would abolish the tax as part of a push to make the country more attractive to investors, which critics say has led to fiscal relief for the wealthiest along with other polices that make him the “president of the rich”.
“People are free to invest where they want. If you want to get married, you  should not explain to your partner, 'If you marry me, you will not be free to divorce,'” Macron told Forbes magazine.
A finance ministry spokesman confirmed to AFP on Saturday that the tax would be kept as part of the 2019 budget plan to be presented later this month, following a report by French financial daily Les Echos.
However the tax will now be levied only if assets are sold within two years of a person's leaving France, instead of 15 years currently.
It applies to people who have been in the country at least six years and have stocks or bonds worth more than 800,000 euros ($930,000), or who own at least 50 percent of a company that moved out of France.
The tax is “a bureaucratic headache for taxpayers” because they have to provide guarantees and file annual declarations for years after leaving the country, the ministry spokesman said.
Aiming to bolster growth
Macron, a former investment banker, has pledged a series of reforms aimed at bolstering economic growth and investment, including making it easier to dismiss workers.
He has also made no secret of his desire to see more people looking for work, at one point calling reform opponents “slackers” and criticising union protesters for “stirring up trouble” instead of finding new jobs.
Greeting people during an open-house visit at the Elysée Palace on France's national heritage weekend, Macron dismissed a young man's claim that he couldn't find work.
“I'm 25 years old, I send resumes and cover letters, they don't lead to anything,” said the aspiring gardener. “If you're willing and motivated, in hotels, cafes and restaurants, construction, there's not a single place I go where they don't say they're looking for people. Not one!” Macron replied. “If I crossed the street I'd find you one,” he said.