France's Hollande shows soccer clubs red card on tax

PARIS Thu Oct 31, 2013 1:27pm EDT

French President Francois Hollande speaks during a news conference at the Slovak government building in Bratislava, October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

French President Francois Hollande speaks during a news conference at the Slovak government building in Bratislava, October 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande has finally found an interest group he can say 'no' to.

The Socialist leader told soccer club owners on Thursday he has no intention of repealing or exempting them from a 75-percent tax on salaries exceeding 1 million euros per year, despite the threat of a match blackout later this month.

"The need to clean up public finances fully justifies this effort demanded of businesses that choose to pay such high annual salaries," Hollande said in a statement after meeting club executives.

Hollande's determination to stick to the two-year supertax contrasted with his government's backpedalling on other fiscal fronts, like a proposed tax on trucks that was suspended this week following protests by farmers and truckers in Brittany.

The proposed "eco-tax" meant to raise up to 1 billion euros a year for rail projects will be suspended until the government has fine-tuned its application, Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told BFMTV.

Pressure on France from European partners to reduce its public deficit have led to tax rises in the 2014 budget and fuelled rising discontent, with a poll showing Hollande with the lowest approval rating of any president on record.

The Socialist government has also backed down on a proposed tax on savings, reinstated a tax break on education costs and dropped a planned new tax on business turnover, each after protests by interest groups.

But the 75-percent tax on top earners, a flagship pledge in Hollande's 2012 election campaign, is much more popular than other levies. A survey by pollster OpinionWay this month showed that 85 percent of voters said they did not think football clubs should be exempted.

The tax is a blow to four leading clubs - Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Marseille, Olympique Lyon and AS Monaco - which have lured top talent to the previously lackluster French league through generous salaries.

(Writing by Nick Vinocur and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Paul Taylor)

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