Billionaire Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man and the fourth richest in the world, according to Forbes, lit off a firestorm with his plans to apply for Belgian citizenship. President Francois Hollande capitalized on the news to say that it was patriotic to pay taxes. And much of public opinion seems to be lining up behind Hollande, despite previous voices of dissent.
Bloomberg reported Tuesday that after the news about Arnault’s plans broke, Hollande seized the opportunity to say in a television interview that after pointing out that Arnault “…should have reflected on what it means to ask for another nationality because we are proud to be French,” Hollande added, “Everyone must take part, and I note Arnault said himself he will contribute.”
He pointed to Arnault’s own declaration that the move was not designed as a protest against an impending 75% tax on those making more than 1 million euros ($1.28 million) per year, and that the billionaire himself said he would remain a fiscal citizen of France, calling Arnault’s words “the right correction.”
Arnault, CEO of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the largest luxury goods company in the world, has said that he began preparations for the request months ago and that it is a “personal action,” not a statement against Hollande’s plan. A source familiar with Arnault’s affairs has said it is intended to smooth over a business deal that would be easier to complete with Belgian, rather than French, citizenship.
A simple switch of citizenship would not exempt Arnault from the tax anyway; in France, taxes are based on residence rather than on citizenship.
Nicolas Tenzer, director of the CERAP political studies institute in Paris, said in the report, “The incident has huge benefits for Francois Hollande. It’s a very powerful symbol and it allows Hollande to bridge dissent among his own supporters.”