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Half of France's active workforce 'living off state'
A majority of France's active population - some 14.5 million people - are living off state
revenues, claims book by tax expert Jean-Philippe Delsol called Why I'm Going to Leave
In the face of rising anger over tax hikes, JeanMarc Ayrault, the prime minister, this week promised a "total
overhaul" of the French tax system, but in the same breath made clear this would not translate into tax cuts. Photo:
By Henry Samuel, Paris
5:18PM GMT 20 Nov 2013
More than half of the active French population is living off the state, according to figures
released in a new book by a tax lawyer seeking to explain why so many of his clients in private
enterprise are "leaving France".
With the country teetering on the brink of nationwide tax revolt, Why I'm Going to Leave
France, out on Thursday, has thrown more fuel on the fire by suggesting that 14.5 million
people out of the country's 28 millionstrong workforce are one way or another making a
living off taxpayers' money.
To reach the mindboggling figure, the author begins with France's "fonctionnaires", or civil
servants, of which there are 5.2 million and whose number has increased by 36 per cent since
1983. These represent 22 per cent of the workforce compared to an OCDE average of 15 per
cent, leading him to conclude that France has 1.5 million too many "fonctionnaires".
He then adds the 3.2 million unemployed people in France relying on state benefits, another
1.3 million taking RSA lowincome handouts, a further two million in the "parapublic" sector
majority stateowned companies and more than a million people in statefunded associations
such as charities. Under the current Socialist government, there are 750,000 statesubsidised
jobs and the author – perhaps arguably includes a million people in the agricultural sector
who rely largely on contributions from European Common Agricultural Policy subsidies.
Although not a direct comparison, figures released by Britain's Office for National Statistics in
August found that 80.9 per cent of jobs were in private industry and commerce – a record high
of 24.1 million people and 19.1 per cent, or 5.7 million, were in the public sector.
Christine Kerdellant, commentator in l'Express magazine, said that even if one questioned the
idea of including the jobless in those receiving state revenues, "it's hard not to find these
"In 2009, praise was lavished on the French model as the recession was less deep in France
than elsewhere as the state didn't fire people. But this protective duvet, funded increasingly
heavily by debt and tax is ending up stifling the country," she wrote.
The book is written in the first person, supposedly by a successful boss of a mediumsized
company who decided to move abroad with his wife and children to avoid "being treated like
an enemy because I make a good living".
In fact, the narrator is a mixture of around 20 clients of JeanPhilippe Delsol, a tax adviser,
who is also an author and administrator of the Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal
Issues, a think tank.
Those fleeing France would only speak anonymously "to avoid reprisals from the tax
authorities", he explained.
He said that the figures in his book were only logical. "When you consider that public
spending in France now accounts for 57 per cent of gross domestic product, it's only natural
that more than half of the active workforce are paid with public money," Mr Delsol told The
The huge nanny state, he said, had "modified the very spirit of (French) society by turning
everyone into fonctionnaires".
It has worked until now as France is a "rich old country", but soon "the system will no longer
function as there will be less and less people working to support more and more people
working less", he argued.
In the face of rising anger over tax hikes, JeanMarc Ayrault, the prime minister, this week
promised a "total overhaul" of the French tax system, but in the same breath made clear this
would not translate into tax cuts.
Mr Delsol said he felt compelled to relay the despair of his clients.
"Every time they receive their tax papers, wealth tax declarations and when they try to part
with an employee, they say it's just too costly, too complicated. The feeling has been growing
for the past year or 18 months." He added: "More and more are now taking this step," putting at
45000 the number of French who moved abroad for tax reasons last year.
The rot started under the previous conservative administration, which introduced an exit tax
for wouldbe tax exiles, Mr Delsol said. "Despite this, my clients' reasoning is: 'At least I know
what I'll have to pay today, but I have no idea how much I'll have to pay tomorrow. I'm off."
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