In the face of strong opposition from the art world, the French government appeared to back down last week from a move to include works of art valued at over €50,000 in annual assessments for wealth tax.
There was alarm among both commercial and non-commercial sectors when it emerged earlier this month that as part of the cost-cutting 2013 budget, the government's finance committee had put forward an amendment to the ISF (impôt de solidarité sur la fortune or wealth tax) that would incorporate works of art valued over this level.
The proposal immediately drew strong reactions from trade bodies such as SYMEV (the French auctioneers association), the Paris Drouot auction group and antiques dealers and art galleries associations. They variously pointed out that the levy would seriously weaken the French art market as buyers ceased to purchase works and vendors took their works overseas to sell and that the measure would only yield low fiscal benefits.
SYMEV's president, Jean-Pierre Osenat, said the association regarded the proposition as short-term fiscal popularism and appealed to the deputies of the government not to sacrifice an exemption from tax that has been maintained by governments of both left and right for 30 years.
A letter was also sent to the culture minister signed by representatives of seven of France's leading museums and galleries, expressing their concerns that alongside its threat to the art market, the tax threatened public collections, exhibitions and art historical research.
Owners would be reluctant to be identified by giving or lending works, they predicted, preferring to send them abroad for sale, thereby risking the disappearance of French heritage, with works of art no longer handed down from one generation to the next.
The threat appeared to be diffused when Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said last Tuesday that the government would not be approving the amendment to include works of art in their calculation of the wealth tax.