During France ’s presidential campaign, François Hollande made a much-discussed pledge to tax all incomes exceeding €1 million at 75%. Now as the victorious Monsieur Hollande prepares to move into the Elysée Palace next week, many are wondering how France ’s high earners will react if his proposal takes effect (which isn’t guaranteed to happen, as discussed here). According to the Financial Times, more and more French high earners are looking into leaving the country. (That’s to be expected—generally, the more you tax something, the less you get; so more taxes on high incomes means fewer high incomes to tax.)
That’s an easy enough move for business people, financial services professionals, entrepreneurs and the like. But what about France ’s footballers? Many are locked into long-term contracts they signed assuming a 41% top tax rate, and the new 75% rate would amount to a hefty pay cut. International players are particularly loathe to accept this—they’re not French citizens, and many feel the onus shouldn’t be on them to help the government shore up its finances. And it’s pretty much given the tax would create disincentives for foreign stars to join French clubs in the future—they can likely net a higher income in the English Premier League, Spain, Italy or Germany, unless French clubs offered a substantially higher pre-tax salary (which they likely can’t afford). In short, it’s tough to imagine France ’s Ligue 1 remaining in Europe ’s top tier for long if the tax takes effect.
To help ease the potential burden on France ’s football stars (and, presumably, prevent a talent flight), Hollande suggested including a “smoothing mechanism” for footballers, which would presumably escalate their tax rates incrementally (he hasn’t elaborated on the details). That would likely help footballers, but only to an extent—it would buy them time to finish out their contracts and sign on elsewhere. It wouldn’t make France any more attractive to international stars, and it wouldn’t prevent the best French players from leaving in search of higher pay. And that could make for some very frustrating UEFA Champions League seasons for French football fans.
Then again, Hollande’s a pragmatist—or at least, he seems one, based on his softened rhetoric since the election. Will he really accept being the man who killed French football?