Actor Gerard Depardieu's threat to give up his French nationality fuels a storm in France, where government leaders accuse him of buying a house just over the border in Belgium to dodge high taxes at home. Belgians, however, are less irate about the move.
PARIS, FRANCE (DECEMBER 17, 2012) (REUTERS) - Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland.
Newspapers in France covered this announcement in their pages on Monday (December 17), debating this issue and the actor's outburst.
A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt.
"Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media.
"I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said.
An angry member of parliament has proposed that France adopt a U.S.-inspired law that would force Depardieu or anyone trying to escape full tax dues to forego their nationality.
French on the streets of Paris also expressed their displeasure at Depardieu's announcement.
"It's weak. We who are the weakest, we who earn the smallest salaries, why should we pay for the richest? He's wrong. To flee one's country is irresponsible," said one woman.
"He's an actor. He profited from the French. And now he's making money, he leaves when the French need him. It's disgusting," said another.
However some supported his move saying it was natural given the high taxes that the government was imposing on the rich.
"We're squashed and the government does not realise it's squashing people with taxes. So it's normal that the rich go. If I was rich I would do it," one woman said.
The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, according to the mayor of the Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale.
Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card.
British author Stephen Clarke who lives and works in Paris and has written books like 'A Year in the Merde' and '1000 Years of Annoying the French' said the outrage was expected because this type of behaviour is not appreciated in France.
"I think he made a huge mistake because in France, they don't like it all when you show that you're rich. People are very discrete about it. So by moving just across the border into Belgium, it's like jumping and saying 'hello, I'm rich.' The French hate that," Clarke said.
Depardieu has said he had paid 145 million euros ($190.08 million) in taxes since beginning work as a printer at the age of 14.
The actor's move comes three months after Bernard Arnault, chief executive of luxury giant LVMH andFrance's richest man, caused an uproar by seeking to establish residency in Belgium - a move he said was not for tax reasons.
Hollande is pressing ahead too with plans to impose a 75-percent supertax on income over 1 million euros.
Belgian residents do not pay wealth tax, which in France is now levied on those with assets over 1.3 million euros ($1.7 million). Nor do they pay capital gains tax on share sales.
Belgians in Brussels seemed less upset than the French about Depardieu's proposed move to their country.
"I think that he can do what he wants and that's all. Personally, I am happy if he's Belgian or not Belgian, or French or not French, I don't really care," said one person.
"We are in Europe so we want to change country, why not? There are already two hundred thousands of them here, so I don't see what this story about the man is about. Him, he speaks, he says what he thinks. Others... This is their right," said another.