REPORT FROM THIERRY GERARD - (France)
For a very long time France has not participated in a conference on tax resistance, but it is immediately evident that French ideas on the way of carrying out this action are very different from what has been said here this evening. It must be said quite honestly that there is very little of this activity in France at the moment. But in order to explain the causes of these, I must explain what our activity consists of at present.
The organisation currently promoting tax resistance is the eastern group of the Movement for Conscientious Objection based in Nancy. MOC Nancy belongs to the national network French MOC, which has 10 groups and 350 members.
For many years previously, tax resistance was the concern of a group in Lyon called MAN (Movement for a Nonviolent Alternative). As the number of military tax refusers diminished greatly during the nineties, this group, reduced in size itself, kept up its activity but did not manage to develop. MOC Nancy took over the action in 1994.
Whilst in the eighties there were several hundred military tax resisters, the action is carried on today with around twenty conscientious objectors and tax resisters. The latter refuse to pay 3% of their taxes, which sum they send to MOC Nancy, accompanied by the copy of a letter which they send to their tax inspector and to the President of the Republic.
MOC Nancy sends this sum to two organisations who accept diverted tax:
THE BALKAN PEACE TEAM: a group working on mediation in the Balkans, led on the French side by Paris MAN. Teams of uniformed military personnel endeavour to preserve a narrow line between the different communities in the Balkans, in order to avoid conflict. This is happening at the moment in Kosovo. (Note: The International Society for Human Rights, 8 Cleveland Park Avenue, London E17 7BS, is one of the international organisations involved in the work at Kosovo.)
MONITOR OF FRENCH ARMS TRANSFERS: This second recipient of refunds has been created in the church at Lyon which houses the Centre of Documentation and Research on Peace and Conflicts (CDRPC), which edits the magazine 'DAMOCLES'. This organisation has as its aim to distribute information on sales and contracts signed by France with foreign countries. These data banks form an important part in campaigns aimed at preventing conflicts and applying pressure in order to avert them.
At present, the money generated by the protests of French tax resisters is minimal, but its importance results from the correspondence with which it is accompanied. By regularly informing people in specialised magazines: (SILENCE, NONVIOLENCE NEWS, NONVIOLENT ALTERNATIVE) of the existence of this action, we hope to spread the action further.
Material Problem: The MOC groups in France are financially independent of each other. The fact is that the group in Nancy works on a very reduced budget and receives no subsidies. The first problem confronting the group is the cost of correspondence between MOC, the war tax resisters and the organisations which accept diverted tax; up to now it has not been decided to use part of the withheld tax which the tax resister sends to MOC to finance the costs of correspondence, but it might soon be necessary to take this decision.
It is clear that at present action on tax resistance is for us a matter of posing a question for the future. The question is: could this become a major action in time to come? The links established at this English conference may enable us to orientate our work judiciously, but we need to discover ways of finding a sufficient number of tax resisters in France. During the campaign on nuclear weapons tests in 1995, a day of information and action organised by MOC Nancy attracted only members and sympathisers of the association: around thirty other organisations who were invited did not attend, and the Socialist Party (PS) condemned our action in writing!
Thierry Gerard (continued)
By its action in abolishing National Service, the Government may encourage the belief that it is demilitarising young people, but it is doing nothing of the kind, since it will carry on imposing compulsory civilian service for boys and, something new, for girls! Besides, arms sales are not diminishing.
The problem with this action is of course also the administrative, fiscal, even penal problems that can be associated with it; many activists in France who want to contribute to a more just society prefer to settle for belonging to different groups, and display a wide tolerance when it comes to paying taxes without going through fiscal procedures. Organisations and associated networks which contribute to the prevention of conflicts do however exist, but they often lack finance; in 1986 a subsidy of 80,000 French francs allocated by the Government to IRNC (Institute for Research into the Nonviolent Resolution of Conflicts) was withdrawn on the pretext that this pacifist organisation was hostile to the policy of defending the nation.
Moreover, the balance sheet from 14 years of French socialism is not very positive as far as such protest actions as tax resistance are concerned; indeed it would seem that in the nineteen eighties all those active for Peace overestimated the ability and the will of a socialist president to reduce the reliance on weapons for defence. Today, now that the socialists are no longer in power and society is increasingly militarised, demobilisation is very important, perhaps because of this negative balance. It is a question we may ask ourselves.
For those of us who are taking up an action of this kind as it were from square one, it was not at all easy to find an organisation which would receive diverted tax. In the absence of work directed towards the project of a law legalising war tax refusal and work on the law itself, our first steps were concerned with the destination of diverted tax. We had great hopes of one of the two organisations receiving the tax, that is the Balkan Peace Team, because it represents a genuine attempt at nonviolent conflict resolution. If that should be possible, it would be interesting for us to describe here this action that we are financing. A French delegation returned some weeks ago from a third journey. But one very important piece of work we could undertake next might be detailed planning of a project to submit to the government a law on the right to objection to the payment of taxes for military purposes. I hope this conference will provide us with directions for the work.
Translator's note There is no PAYE system in France; taxpayers are required to send their tax themselves to the Inspector of Taxes. Those who divert 3% of their taxes are proceeded against by the tax authorities, who reclaim the tax plus a 10% 'fine', and recover the tax, if necessary by an 'Attachment of Earnings Order'.
Our French conference participants in their reports distinguish between 'objecteur' = conscientious objector, 'refuseur' = war tax resister and 'réfractaire' = absolutist.