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France

Eye on France: Paris free transport plan shot down

media Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo announcing that city transport will not be free for all. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Transport is the rather tenuous link between today’s stories. Even if no one seems to be going anywhere.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has decided that she won’t, after all, make public transport in the French capital a free service.

Last March, Hidalgo launched a cohort of experts to examine the question of free public transport. They have since reported. Last night, she said they were not in favour of the project, and so we’re going to have to keep on paying to use Paris’s trains, trams and buses.

The original idea was to encourage more people to use the public system and leave their cars at home, thus reducing fuel consumption and pollution. There was also the social aspect, with those who can’t afford cars being encouraged to travel more and, perhaps, feel less excluded.

Bad idea, too costly

The experts say the overall project would simply cost too much and is not feasible.

But Hidalgo still hopes to be able to find the 15 million euros per year needed to offer free transport to kids up to the age of 11 (as things stand, you need a ticket once you’re over four), to handicapped travellers, and a big reduction for secondary school students.

Much of the money will come from the sale of advertising space in Paris, with the rest depending on the good will of the regional partners. Perhaps good will is the wrong expression. A few hours after Hidalgo made her announcement, the office of the president of the Ile-de-France region which surrounds Paris reminded the mayor that there’s no such thing as free transport, somebody has to pay, adding the barb that the woman who made a hash of the free bicycle scheme in the capital could hardly be trusted to re-organise the trains and buses.

Ghosn not going anywhere either

Things, I’m afraid, are not looking great for former Nissan boss, Carlos Ghosn.

Some of the Paris dailies are saying Ghosn will tomorrow be charged with under-declaring his income, others suggest that the Japanese prosecutors will simply add new accusations to the existing charge sheet, so as to be able to prolong the French super-boss’s stay behind bars.

Carlos Ghosn has already been in a Tokyo jail since 19 November, suspected of allowing fraudulent company accounts to be published. Basically, he declared his annual salary without mentioning a deferred payment scheme whereby something like 70 million euros was put aside for his retirement. He says he did nothing wrong. The Japanese legal machine is not so sure.

And another thing...

Unfortunately, Ghosn is also accused of having used fifteen million euros of Nissan money to cover his personal stock market losses in the wake of the 2008 global financial crash. And it is this suspicion that could now see him obliged to remain in the Kosuge prison for some time to come.

Once again, the suspect denies any crime. He says the stock deal was a temporary transfer, agreed by Nissan directors, and that it didn’t cost the company anything. The Tokyo prosecutor remains unconvinced.

Political and union turmoil

Both Le Figaro and Libération carry the related revelation that Carlos Ghosn has not been liable for tax in France since 2012.

That’s the year in which Ghosn shifted his fiscal residence to Holland, home of the headquarters of the Nissan-Renault alliance directed by Ghosn. And perhaps significantly, a country which, unlike France at the time, did not have a wealth tax. Emmanuel Macron has since done away with that very legislation, arguing that it was forcing the hyper-rich to lodge their money in foreign banks, rather than re-invest it in French development projects.

Up to 2012, Carlos Ghosn would also have been liable to pay something called the CEHR, the exceptional contribution for high earners, put in place by Socialist president, François Hollande.

Libération wonders if he was simply fed up paying French taxes, and so decided to move his official address a few hundred kilometres to the north. Dutch law requires that tax-payers reside in the country for at least 183 days every year. But, according to one official at the French Finance Ministry, the authorities in Amsterdam would probably have been so pleased to have such a big payer on their books, they might not have counted Ghosn’s visits too carefully.

Earlier today, the centrist political figure François Bayrou described the news as scandalous, saying that Ghosn had broken the rules covering both tax liability and civic responsibility.

The CGT trade union at Renault in France has asked management and the Paris tax people for an explanation.

One thing is certain. The unfortunate man at the centre of the whole affair will not face questioning in Tokyo today. Ghosn is ill with a fever and prison medical staff have ordered the prosecutor to lay off for a while.

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