Professional classes join French tax revolt

Doctors, lawyers and others say they are ‘asphyxiated’ by increases

Another group joined France’s rumbling tax revolt yesterday, when 750,000 members of the National Union of Liberal Professions (UNAPL) declared themselves “asphyxiated” by taxation and excessive government regulation.

Four-fifths of the professionals, who include doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, notaries, accountants and architects, have no employees other than themselves. The remainder employ a million people, for example secretaries and cleaners.

If the government does not heed its campaign of tracts, petitions and posters, the group's president Michel Chassang said its members may take to the streets. Two-thirds of respondents in a poll last month said they were ready to demonstrate against further tax rises.

“Liberal professions in danger! Mobilise to save the professions of life!” says UNAPL’s petition.

Tax overhaul
The professionals are particularly angry about a 40 per cent increase in the professional tax, recently rebaptised the CFE. They also fear that French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's promised overhaul of the tax system will be at their expense. Mr Ayrault wants to make the Generalised Social Contribution (CSG) more progressive and merge it with income tax.

"The only justification given is that we have the means to contribute more," Philippe Bichet, a dental surgeon in Nancy, told Le Figaro. "They portray us as privileged, which we are not. We're fed up with all these taxes. Because we work hard and still manage to make a living, the government is beating up on us."

Article 32 of the law on pension reform puts the liberal professions’ €21 billion retirement fund under government control. UNAPL fears the money its members have carefully set aside will be thrown into the “hole” of France’s social security deficit.

Much of the private sector resents France’s 5.2 million civil servants, who retire earlier, with greater benefits. Only a quarter of civil servants’ pensions are financed by their own contributions. Taxpayers finance the remainder: €37.3 billion this year alone.

The Hollande administration fears that multiple small tax revolts could meld into significant unrest. Some 72 per cent of respondents in a poll last month said they believed social discontent will lead to a broader social movement.

The UNAPL has threatened to unite with the artisan-shopkeepers' union UPA, comprised of butchers, bakers, cheese shop owners and others. Combined, the two sectors claim to represent a quarter of all jobs in France.

Calling themselves “the sacrificed”, the UPA demonstrated last month against the VAT increase scheduled for January 1st. Nearly half a million people have signed its petition against the tax rise. UPA says six local shops die every hour – 147 each day – in France.

Cats and dogs
The national syndicate of cat and dog breeders marched in Paris yesterday, also to protest against the impending VAT increase, from 7 to 20 per cent in their profession. They say it will favour the importation of pets from eastern Europe. A month ago, several thousand owners or employees of French equestrian centres demonstrated for the same reason. They claim the tax increase will drive 80,000 horses and ponies into retirement.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times