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The attitudes of ordinary French people to the dispute presently under way between their government and the fat, famed film star Gerard Depardieu throw fascinating light upon the state of the EU, the woeful ignorance of the majority of French people as to where their leaders have been taking them in recent decades, and the present state of play between collectivism and individualism, which has been fought out down the centuries in the regions of Europe now known as France.
Monsieur Depardieu, (perhaps best known to English-speaking audiences for his role in the movie, Green Card) in renouncing his French citizenship over new, even higher, taxes claimed in an accompanying letter sent with his passport to the government to have paid a tax bill of 85% of his revenues last year. Furthermore, that after having worked since the age of 14, he has in the past 45 years paid €145 million ($190m) in taxes. Such claims, one hopes, would be sympathetically heard in the English-speaking countries on either side of the Atlantic. That is certainly not largely the case in France, where I now live.
High among the factors causing stunned outrage from the government's point of view is what can best be described as lack of "solidarity". Depardieu's point that he seems to be exercising a new "Europeanism" is set out in his letter as follows. "We no longer have the same country. I'm a true European, a citizen of the world." It has so far been left unanswered by those now leading France, who themselves have just returned from the 27-nation European Council in Brussels where intentions of eternal solidarity were as ever much to be seen in the meeting's minutes. What hypocrisy!
On the street are to be found assertions that the French cinema, being heavily subsidised by the state and thereby French taxpayers, is yet another cause for Depardieu's wealth; while his oft-mentioned numerous high-class restaurants, (now reportedly up for sale) must necessarily have been paid for by the very same taxpayers Monsieur Depardieu is now accused of in some way defrauding.
Bellicosity towards Belgium, where Monsieur Depardieu has found a new home, and which maintains a top rate of tax at 75%, has become ever more intense. A worrying fact indeed, as that country itself is in deep crisis with its own French-speaking population who are at odds with their Flemish speaking neighbours and had previously looked towards France for support.
Here we see vividly illustrated the disastrous consequences of Europe's leaders having downplayed the reality of their actions in transferring their sovereignty to Brussels. A "partial abnegation of sovereignty" was the stated intent, but the builders of the EU were always fully aware that sovereignty is not divisible. The crisis between France and Belgium over the residence status and tax dues of one portly film star, previously fondly regarded by French-speaking cinema-goers, is bringing this fact into open and sharp relief. More serious disputes are en route as the curtain comes down on this new European horror story.