hollande

Hollande’s 1 year anniversary as president of the French republic certainly hasn’t been a happy one. A triple dip recession, record unemployment and increasingly vocal attacks from both left and right have ensured the president remains humbled in his celebrations of reaching the milestone.

However, even in this difficult time the president has still been finding innovative ways to maintain rising spending, in area’s many countries have chosen to decimate its spending in, namely, the arts and culture.

In a recent report commissioned by the president that contained dozens of potential methods to help raise money for French art, film, television, video games and everything inbetween. One that has been attracting a lot of attention and generating discussion, both from the government and the electronics and web industry, is a proposed tax on smart-phones, tablets and other such devices capable of accessing the internet. French culture secretary Aurelie Filipetti claims this tax will most likely be only 1% but could be raised to 3%.

Of course many have already risen up to voice objections. The lobby group DigitalEurope which represents the electronics industry and lobbies directly to Brussels, stated that the tax was a “move in the wrong direction,” The move also threatens much needed investment in France from the industry and could potentionally damage the sales of such products, which have rapidly rising as France takes to the products with gusto.

At first this tax may seem arbitrary, an perhaps hints that Hollande’s direct taxation has reached its limits, and to raise further money taxes need to be levied on purchases. However, there is a logic behind the tax, as it mainly aims to correct so called excessive imbalances in the cultural sector. Why should those that profit from the dissemination of culture not contribute to its creation? Indeed when many tech giants such as Google and Amazon have been shy of paying their full tax it seems a sure fire way the get them to cough up.

The logic extends beyond balancing the books however and has roots in France’s perception of itself in a rapidly interconnected world. For decades now, France has sought to shield its own culture from that of the rest of the world, the so called ‘cultural exception,’ French broadcasters have a quota of how much French created music they can play on the radio in relation to foreign made music. Similarly, French newspapers receive heavy subsidies from the government, and TV stations are an integral part of the governments remit of power. On top of this, French internet service providers pay a tax for the same reasons the government is proposing a levy on smart technology. Thus a tax on internet devices is not so much an exceptionate move, rather an attempt to bring the industry in line with the rest of the French media industry.

‘Cultural exceptionism’ is a concept uniquely French, who has a long history of resisting cultural changes and protecting its own culture from that of others, in stark contrast to many of its neighbours, for example Germany, with Berlin entrenched as a world culture capital. The French establuishment has always aligned itself against the running of globalization, despite it being one of its principal beneficiaries. For some in France, especially those at the top, globalization is synonymous with Americanization, and is seen one of the more major affronts to French national security. Indeed, officials often use quite antagonistic language when talking about foreign influences, speaking of the need for a ‘defence’ of French culture from external, usually English language ‘threats,’

This tax then aligns perfectly with the French tradition of resisting external cultural influences. The de facto language of the internet is English, as it is the most commonly spoken second language and as it becomes an increasingly dominant source for both new and established forms of culture, many in the French elite feel the need to offset this with funding French art by taxing the use of the English language internet.

That isn’t to say these taxes are simply a form of cultural totalitarianism. Modern French culture is as vibrant as ever, with the Film Amour picking up both an Oscar and a BAFTA, and the video game Dishonoured showing the countries cultural talent is well and truly up to speed with the rest of the world in emerging fields of art. These achievements undoubtedly owe much to Frances commitment to spending in the arts at such at a time when amny governments are reneging on their commitments in the field. Thus it is hard to write off the latest move by the French elite to protect its cultural interests, as though it does somewhat highlight a paradox in French society, that of one whole heartedly in favour of globalization but only when it suits them, as its benefits are tangible and do make a real difference.

Thus though this tax demonstrates a continuation of a cultural policy based on nationalism and a softly implemented control of cultural and its dissemination, its benefits are real and perhaps there are some lessons from such policies that other countries could consider to boost their own cultural sectors.