Billionaires face 'yellow vest' scorn over Notre-Dame pledges

An aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris  -
An aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris -

Billionaire French tycoons faced a mounting backlash on Wednesday over tax breaks on their huge donations to restore Notre-Dame, as Yellow Vest protestors said the hundreds of millions of euros should be spent on tackling France's social problems.

The contributions to the cathedral's renovation approached €900 million (£780m) on Wednesday as the owners of Chanel and Dior stepped forward with donations along with Disney and the technology giant Apple.

However, the outpouring of cash has angered supporters of France's Yellow Vest movement, which noted that President Emmanuel Macron's "rich friends" stood to receive major tax breaks linked to donations in support of the public good and restoring national treasures.

They also pointed out that the sudden willingness of wealthy businesses to turn out their pockets showed that money was available to boost the French government's coffers.

French corporations are eligible for a 60-percent tax rebate on cultural donations.  “There is growing anger on social media over the inertia of big corporations over social misery while they are showing themselves capable of mobilising a crazy amount of cash overnight for Notre Dame," said Ingrid Levavasseur, one of the founding members of the Yellow Vests.

Benjamin Cauchy, a spokesman for the Yellow Vests, added: “It’s fine that the oligarchy is paying for Notre Dame. Good consciences do not hide misery and austerity.”

The Yellow Vests say they will be holding more demonstrations against Mr Macron this Saturday despite the Notre-Dame catastrophe.

Previous protests have led to violent clashes on the streets of French towns and cities with riot police.

Anti-government protesters at the Place de la Republique Square during yellow-vest protests in Paris. - Credit: Arina Lebedeva/TASS
Anti-government protesters at the Place de la Republique Square during yellow-vest protests in Paris Credit: Arina Lebedeva/TASS

Stung by such criticism, Francois-Henri Pinault, the billionaire CEO of the Kering luxury goods empire, announced he would forfeit his rebate on the €100m he has pledged.

"The donation for Notre-Dame of Paris will not be the object of any tax deduction. Indeed, the Pinault family considers that it is out of the question to make French taxpayers shoulder the burden," he said in a statement.

The government said the 60 per cent tax break would remain unchanged but increased the rebate to 75 percent on individual donations for Notre-Dame of up to €1,000.

The French president has called the fire an opportunity for the nation to show unity and that now is "not a time for politics."

"It is up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are. It is up to us to find the thread of our national project," he said in a television address earlier this week.

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