The weekly magazine L'Obs is pleased to report that the leading French businesses made record profits in 2021, while the rest of us were cowering in fear of the coronavirus. But did they all pay reasonable taxes in France on those record earnings? L'Obs asked them just that.
The top forty companies quoted on the Paris stock exchange, the CAC 40, made a total of 174 billion euros in profits in 2021. Not bad, especially given that the world economy had a bad dose of viral infection during those 12 months, and times were hard.
The companies were happy to tell the reporters from L'Obs about their record incomes, which they have to publish anyway, to conform with French stock market regulations.
So far, so good.
While the French parliament this week struggles to reach an agreement which will allow the very poorest get to the end of the month with more than a few centimes to spare, the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, insists that increasing the level of taxation on big companies is a bad idea.
"We must avoid increasing company tax levels at all costs," he says, repeating the Macronist mantra of the past five years: less tax means more economic activity.
As L'Obs is obliged to point out, the truth of that claim is very difficult to establish.
The re-elected president has so far abolished wealth tax, created a flat tax rate on individual stock market profits, has reduced company taxation, as well as the so-called production taxes on big businesses.
The truth about company taxation
But, let's get back to scrubbing the pig. How much tax do the big winners admit paying?
Take Vivendi, for example, the French media and communications group, "world leader in culture" according to the company website.
Vivendi made 24,692 billion euros in 2021, on which the company paid 929 million euros in French tax. Very roughly, one third of one tenth of one percent. If you are lucky enough to have an ordinary job, you are taxed at something like 12 percent.
But there's worse.
The energy company Total made 15,900 millions in profits, and paid nothing in French taxes.
And that despite having 35,000 French employees, a swathe of major refineries, and a network of 3,300 petrol stations.
Total has offered to reduce the pump price of petrol by 10 centimes per litre.
No bill for Sanofi and Renault
The pharmaceutical group Sanofi may have missed the boat in the race to perfect a Covid vaccine, they still made a neat 8 billion euros in 2021. And they paid no tax, since special regulations regarding medicines covered by the French social security system mean that they really made no money at all.
The car maker Renault recorded a modest profit of 967 million euros, with the same zero tax bill.
When the journalists at L'Obs add it all up, it comes out like this:
Overall profits for 2021, 174 billion euros
Total tax paid to the French government in 2021, 9.8 billion euros.
Or a tax rate of 4.5 percent. Nice work if you can get it.