Belgium’s foreign minister Didier Reynders seems a jolly fellow. He should be, given that Gérard Depardieu has chosen to live in Belgium and engage in a shouting match with the French government over French income taxes, which are high. Today Reynders gave an interview to the centre-right newspaper Le Figaro, where critics of the socialist president François Hollande are made to feel comfortable.
Dépardieu’s arrival is a good-news story for Belgium, which could use one; Wikipedia’s entry on Belgium’s “2007-2011 political crisis” seems to me to have pretty arbitrary start and end dates. Reynders’ interview catches the longtime former finance minister in an ebullient and cutting mood. On French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault’s use of the word “pathetic” (minable) to describe Dépardieu: “These are words we would never use in Belgium, even when we are very angry.” On the French government’s desire to renegotiate tax collection between the two governments, the gentlest possible No Way: “We’re ready to examine many things, as long as the superior principle of free circulation of people, goods and services within the EU is respected. But if this is about recognizing some French power to tax people who live in Belgium, that’s a whole other matter. Every European country must accept that its citizens decide to live elsewhere.”
He says the French government’s public musings about a renegotiated tax regime have not led to any actual communication with him. “It makes me wonder whether the French authorities are short of arguments.” He welcomes newcomers to Belgium. “If France wants to advertise for Belgian taxation I don’t mind. If other French citizens want to come to Belgium I’m not at all against it. But it is totally wrong to believe we have been doing all we can to attract the French. No! It happens that for years, France has freely chosen a tax system that has consequences.”
On the notion of a Europe-wide renegotiation of taxation, one of the fantasies French politicians like to peddle to their people now and then, Reynders is unhelpful. “France has made decisions and it would very much like others to assume the consequences. But you have to own your decisions. You can want Europe-wide tax harmonization. But I’m not sure a majority of European governments plan to follow the French example.”
Reynders will not be unaware that France lately doesn’t want to follow the French example either. Hollande and Ayrault are in free fall in the polls. When asked which issue the French government should tackle first, respondents most often mention deficits and public debt.