Wealthy French look to leave

Many alienated by tone of recent presidential vote

France could see the flight of its wealthier citizens because of president-elect Francois Hollande’s rhetoric against the rich.

PARIS - Jeremie Le Febvre, the 30-year-old founder of the private equity marketing-services firm TBG Capital Advisors, plans to move to Singapore from Paris this year.

It’s not because of President-elect Francois Hollande’s pledge to boost taxes, but what his victory says about how wealth is viewed in France.

“What’s really driving my departure is the fact that I don’t share the values that emerged during the election, the rejection of ambition and success,’’ he said. “It’s part of France’s difficult relationship with money, but it has reached a new level. Even if it’s utopian, I need to believe for me and my descendents that the sky is the limit.’’


France, the fifth-richest country and home to some of world’s wealthiest, including Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, doesn’t celebrate its affluent. Hollande, a Socialist who once said “I don’t like the rich,’’ and who plans to slap a 75 percent tax on income of more than $1.29 million, reinforces the sentiment that in France, to be rich is not glorious.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“Hollande is using the 75 percent tax as a symbol to convey certain values through stigmatization,’’ Le Febvre said.

Hollande’s rhetoric against wealth and finance is prompting some in France to consider leaving, and European rivals are welcoming them. “Bienvenue a Londres,’’ or welcome to London, Mayor Boris Johnson quipped in January. Switzerland and Belgium have been just as warm.

Julien Berckmans, a real estate agent at Brussels-based Best Home Consult, took five calls from French citizens seeking to buy property in the Belgian capital after Hollande defeated President Nicolas Sarkozy on May 6.

“They had come and visited houses in the previous weeks, telling us their decision depended on the outcome of the presidential election,’’ Berckmans said. “They called on the morning after to say they were serious about moving.’’


Abdallah Chatila, a Geneva-based realtor who specializes in properties worth more than $3.8 million, said he received several enquiries from lawyers on behalf of French clients.

“It’s difficult to determine, but we’ll know in the next three months how many are willing to confirm,’’ he said.

Hollande’s millionaire tax announcement during this year’s election campaign triggered a 30 percent rise in searches from France for prime properties in wealthy London neighborhoods such as South Kensington and Chelsea, according to real estate agent Knight Frank.

“Seen from abroad, France is the last country where an entrepreneur wants to go,’’ Marc Simoncini, founder of French dating site, said in an interview on BFM TV. “I don’t know of any British person who’s come to set up a business in France. But I know plenty of young French people who’ve gone to London to do that.’’

The attacks on the moneyed class intensified in the presidential race, leaving entrepreneurs and other wealth creators feeling like pariahs, said Michel Collet, a tax lawyer at the Paris law firm CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre.


“The rich are fed up with being stigmatized,’’ he said. “Beyond the expectation of higher taxes, another important reason why our clients say they want to move abroad is that the negative perception of wealth has mounted in the past weeks.’’

The attitude toward business and wealth is driving people away, said Diane Segalen, founder of Segalen & Associes, an executive search firm specializing in top management and board members.

“It’s not only for people who don’t want to be taxed 75 percent, but people who want to be in a country where they think they can do business,’’ she said. “They want to be in a country where there’s stability in taxes and labor laws, and where they aren’t at risk when they try to set up a business.’’

Talent and skills will go where they are welcome, she said.

The trickle out began even before the election campaign. The number of French people fleeing high taxes rose to more than 1,000 a year between 2009 and 2011, according to estimates by Segalen. It was 384 in 2001, government figures show.

Collet said he noticed increasing expatriation-related queries about a year ago, when Sarkozy started increasing taxes and ended a concession that capped all taxes at 50 percent of income.