As Wealthy Lavish Money on Notre-Dame, Les Misérables Ask, ‘What About Us?’

PARIS — The pledges got here in fast succession.

François-Henri Pinault, France’s second-richest man, put up an eye-popping 100 million euros to rebuild Notre-Dame, simply as firefighters had been dousing the final flames on the cathedral early Tuesday morning. To not be outdone, Bernard Arnault, France’s wealthiest scion and a fierce rival to Mr. Pinault, upped the ante with a 200-million-euro reward just a few hours later.

By Wednesday, the federal government had welcomed some 850 million euros — greater than $960 million — provided within the patriotic identify of salvaging the cultural treasure, as cash from rich French households, French firms and worldwide firms poured in.

However the spectacle of billionaires attempting to one-up one another shortly intensified resentments over inequality which have flared through the Yellow Vest motion, simply as President Emmanuel Macron was trying to remodel the calamity into a brand new period of nationwide unity. There have been accusations that the wildly wealthy had been attempting to scrub their reputations throughout a time of nationwide tragedy.

“Are you able to think about, 100 million, 200 million in a single click on!” stated Philippe Martinez, the top of the militant CGT labor union. “It actually reveals the inequalities on this nation.”

“In the event that they’re in a position to give dozens of tens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame,” he added, “they need to cease telling us that there isn’t any cash to pay for social inequalities.”

Ollivier Pourriol, a French thinker and novelist, summed up the sentiment extra drolly.

“Victor Hugo thanks all of the beneficiant donors prepared to avoid wasting Notre Dame and proposes that they do the identical factor with Les Misérables,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to a different certainly one of Hugo’s well-known novels, concerning the lives of the poor.

Manon Aubry, a senior determine in France Insoumise, the principle radical left celebration, known as the funding an “train in public relations.” She stated the donors’ record “seems just like the rankings of firms and other people positioned in tax havens.”

She added: “I need to inform them: Begin by paying your taxes. That can add to the state tradition funds.”

The firestorm started when Jean-Jacques Aillagon, a former tradition minister and now adviser to Mr. Pinault, went on Twitter after Mr. Pinault introduced his reward Tuesday to counsel that company contributions to Notre-Dame’s restoration be given a 90 p.c tax deduction, somewhat than the 60 p.c that firms usually get for charitable contributions.

“That’s when the entire thing exploded,” stated Pierre Haski, a commentator for France-Inter, the general public radio station. “That produced outrage, that this act of generosity turns into fiscal benefit.”

The response was so intense that Mr. Aillagon went on the radio Wednesday morning to retract his suggestion. The Pinault household then introduced that they’d search no tax deduction in any respect for the reward.

“It was very revealing concerning the sensitivity of the entire situation,” Mr. Haski stated, coming within the midst of an incredible nationwide debate concerning the yellow vests and their protests in opposition to inequality and monetary privileges.

Usually many are relieved that Notre-Dame nonetheless stands, and if there may be now a billion euros to reconstruct it, with out calling too deeply on an already stretched nationwide funds, which may be sufficient.

The protests that started final autumn had been initially over a gasoline tax, however morphed into a bigger collective outcry over declining dwelling requirements that many common French folks complained had been rooted in excessive taxes, whereas the upper-middle lessons within the huge cities, not to mention the wealthy, had been doing simply superb.

The protesters have lashed out at Mr. Macron for favoring the very wealthy by eliminating a wealth tax, amongst different inducements as a part of his plan to stimulate the economic system.

Whereas he has since introduced a collection of modest tax cuts to assist folks struggling to make ends meet, he has refused to reinstate the wealth tax, a symbolic slap within the face of the protesters that redoubled their anger.

Ingrid Levavasseur, a founding chief of the Yellow Vests, stated France ought to “get again to actuality.”

“There’s rising anger on social media over the inertia of huge firms over social distress whereas they’re proving in a position to mobilize a loopy quantity of dough in a single day for Notre-Dame,” she added.

The businesses contributing are among the many largest in France, and account for tens of 1000’s of jobs at residence and overseas within the luxurious, power and development industries.

However for a lot of, they’re additionally symbols of an untouchable class of superrich who maintain getting richer, due to a number of fiscal benefits.

Each Mr. Arnault and Mr. Pinault made their fortunes on this planet of luxurious — Mr. Arnault constructed the LVMH Louis Vuitton empire, and Mr. Pinault’s household owns Kering, the second-largest luxurious group in France.

The 2 billionaires have been rivals ever because the so-called “purse wars,” after they sparred for management of the Italian luxurious group Gucci. Mr. Pinault finally gained.

They’ve each amassed big private fortunes, though Mr. Arnault’s, which Forbes estimated at 76 billion, far outpaces Mr. Pinault’s, estimated at a mere 26 billion euros.

Each males have constructed up priceless artwork collections and have scrambled to outdo each other through the years with new museums in France and Italy to deal with their treasures.

So when the billionaires introduced their beneficiant donations to Notre-Dame, critics had been fast to notice that the ample deductions can be made up for by the French taxpayers.

“These billionaires need to cross for heroes,” Esther Benbassa, a senator with the Inexperienced celebration, stated on Twitter. “They might do higher to surrender tax evasion and monetary optimization.”

Previously, Mr. Pinault had additionally declined to take a tax break on the refurbishment of Paris’s historic industrial bourse within the middle of Paris, which he’s changing into a contemporary artwork museum, saying French taxpayers shouldn’t foot the invoice for his private spending.

When it regarded like different rich donors would possibly have the ability to profit from a beneficiant tax perk for his or her largess, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe sought to douse tensions at a information convention on Wednesday.

“We should be delighted that very low-income people, very rich people in addition to firms need to take part within the effort to rebuild a cathedral that’s on the coronary heart of our historical past,” he stated.

Thus far, different rich donors have stayed mum on the difficulty. Mr. Arnault, who shortly doubled down on Mr. Pinault’s pledge, has not issued any additional assertion.

Nor has one other rich donor, the worldwide cosmetics big L’Oréal. The corporate’s heirs, the Bettencourt-Meyers, introduced a 200-million-euro donation for Notre-Dame on Tuesday via the Bettencourt Schueller Basis.

“After all there may be fame washing concerned,” stated Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a French commentator, who noticed the preliminary items as essentially honest.

“There’s a muscle reminiscence of Catholicism in France and it got here again,” she stated. “We’re a secular nation, however when push involves shove,” spiritual emotions come ahead.

For some French folks, like Grâce Kitoudi, a customer support consultant working in an airport, the difficulty appeared overblown.

In her view, the Yellow Vest disaster and the Notre-Dame fireplace “are two very completely different debates,” she stated. “We should not confuse all the things. If we are able to have donations to rebuild this unimaginable monument, that’s all good.”

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