On Saturday and again yesterday we had an interesting visitor. He is a third generation local man. He has a small farm, most of which is used for cattle, some maize and sun flowers, and more by other farmers than him although he still has part of it he uses himself. There is a second house which has been a gîte for about 20 years. When he left school his father and brother ran the farm so he became a bookkeeper and eventually retired a couple of years ago after long service at local tresoréries. He farmed part-time, even whilst still working full time. He therefore has a quite reasonable pension and the property as assets. The gîte did well until the last two years.
He now wants to sell up and go. He knows all about the tax bills that confront him if he does not and whilst he can hide behind his property mainly being agricultural to an extent, he still sees the amount taken from him as excessive and wants out. He was saying that his grandparents came, along with quite a few people in this area, when Mussolini began to clear the the Pontine Marshes on the coast not far from Rome in the 1920s. So, he has a direct link in that his grandparents died less than 30 years ago and reminded him that he is not 'properly' French. For all of that, he has never left France, has only been to Paris twice and did not do military service because of some kind of health issue. However, the Arnault, Depardieu, Bardot and others leaving France issue has entered into his way of looking at his own situation. That is why I have put this under banks and money rather than property or a general discussion.
So, somebody had recommended my wife as an agent to take on his property. He wants to sell the gîte, then his house and leave France. None of his four children want the house, one is already living outside of France, he is a widower and his brother who might have had a claim never married and died several years ago. So it is a clear cut deal, if he sells.
He wanted advice on two things. Clearly, the first was selling his property. Having been in a finance office for many years he knows lots of ways of dealing with the money so that he can initially avoid the taxes, so he is wishing to sell the gîte first, then the main house and finally a barn with permission to convert. He has had a geometre to separate the barn and some land already. His idea is to filter money out of France as the sales go through and be gone before the final phase is completed. He will do everything with the notaire by correspondence, fax, email and telephone. He does not want to be here.
He learned English at school and has refreshed it since retiring. So his other enquiry was about moving to England. He knows that his pension is safe, that his private pension is even safer but wants to keep as much of the proceeds of the sale as possible and be just across the Channel, so he has Canterbury or thereabouts in mind. I have no idea about Kent, as I told him, but think it is probably extremely expensive to buy there. Then he told us that he was one of a number of claimants who have kept open a case for compensation for the confiscated land in Italy his grandfather was part of after WW2. It appears that it was settled one case at a time, alphabetically and his family's claim has just been upheld and that soon he will get a payment with interest backdated which should give him capital for a house. He also does not want that money taxed here, so wanted to know how to open a bank account in the UK.
My wife does not want to get entangled in his plot but has passed him on to somebody with a thicker skin who instantly said he would do it. I told him to take a trip to the UK to have a look and by all means open an account, which he could do at the bank of his choice over the counter.
Now that is what I recall, but it is what underlies this that is more the point. When somebody who is essentially French, despite having other origins, and knows nowhere else at all, is already in his early 60s and would be going alone, all for basically financial reasons, what does it say about the state of things? Whether he will sell according to plan, get away with his plot and actually go remains to be seen. However, he has been a financial functionary for many years and maybe he knows things other people do not. The question is though, if the very rich are fleeing the country because of taxation and now those who are simply comfortable are thinking along the same lines if this man is anything to go by, then should Hollande and government think again?