Press review (Dis)Equality

As poverty spreads in Europe, wealth is (still) tax-free

Each month, in association with Display Europe, we review the media coverage of our continent through the lens of inequality: gender, income, work, social attitudes and so on. We begin with Europe’s growing poverty problem. Amid an ever-rising cost of living, the welfare state is being eroded almost everywhere. One solution? Taxes.

Published on 10 October 2023 at 12:47

A poll carried out by Ipsos at the beginning of September, to which 10,000 people responded in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, United Kingdom, Portugal, Moldova and Serbia, reveals that Europeans are going through a hard patch.

For 55 percent of those questioned, purchasing power has fallen over the last three years. The major cause identified is, unsurprisingly, price rises. One third of the respondents say they are economically insecure (29 percent on average, almost 50 percent in Greece and Moldova). Thirty percent say they have already skipped a meal, and a third say their salary is no longer sufficient. Eurostat confirms this trend: in 2022 95.3 million people in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, or 21.6 percent of the population.

Whether it be classic salaried employment or more novel and precarious types of labour, this working Europe just keeps getting poorer.

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Yet an OECD study analysed by the French monthly Alternatives Economiques shows that labour is more heavily taxed than capital. With the exception of only three countries (Switzerland, Spain and Colombia), everywhere in the world it is fiscally more attractive to receive dividends than to earn wages. And it just so happens that dividends are currently in rude health: in the second quarter of 2023, fully $568.1 billion of them were distributed by 1,200 listed companies, an increase of 4.9 percent compared to 2022 (Janus Henderson data, April-June data, reported by Libération).

Taxing capital: a solution?

One proposal comes from the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament. On 15 September last, it released a report "Tax the rich: From slogan to reality", produced with the NGO Tax Justice Network on the basis of data from the World Inequality Database. A "moderate and progressive" wealth tax, which targets the richest 0.5 percent in each European country, would raise over €213 billion in tax revenue each year. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, this "0.5 percent of the population holds about 20 percent of European wealth, compared to 3.5 percent for all of the less prosperous half. This wealth has grown by 35 percent in ten years."

Along the same lines is a European citizens' initiative submitted by Belgian socialist Paul Magnette and French socialist Aurore Lalucq. Accepted by the European Commission, signature collection for the petition opened on 9 October. It proposes a tax on large estates to finance environmental and social programmes and international development.

According to the European Central Bank, the ecological transition is going to be expensive. Very expensive. Especially for ordinary people: increases in energy bills of up to 50 percent are predicted in the worst-case scenario.

Taxing wealth sounds complicated, but it is possible.

Spain has got the ball rolling: as the news agency EFE reports, a "solidarity tax" is due to hit Spanish assets worth €3 million or more. In addition, capital gains tax will be increased and the tax thresholds for lower incomes will be raised.

On the same theme

Restos du cœur: ‘The government Uberises solidarity and gets itself off the hook’

Elsa Da Costa | La Croix | 9 September | FR

Restos du Cœur is one of France's largest food-distribution charities. The association issued a cry for help in early September: this year there are 1.3 million French people on its lists, a 20 percent increase compared to 2022, when the figures had already soared. The organisation risks being submerged. Bernard Arnault, one of the world’s richest men and owner of the luxury-goods group LVMH, responded to the appeal by donating €10 million. How generous was that for somebody with an estimated wealth of €214 billion?  The cybersecurity expert Mathis Hammel created a comparator that provides an answer: for someone with an income of €35,000 it corresponds to €1.64.

Perhaps the real problem is a great absentee. "Where is the state?" asks Elsa Da Costa. "The government has Uberised solidarity. It is shirking its responsibility, that of tackling the root causes of food insecurity. And meanwhile the poorest people queue up at soup kitchens."

Why have we stopped believing in the rich?

Michał Zabdyr-Jamróz  | Znak | 18 july | PL (paywall)

For decades, a dominant narrative in the media has been the capitalist-meritocratic notion that wealth is a proof of merit – of entrepreneurship, genius, hard work and so on, all of which are rewarded in a free market. These days, however, the rich are increasingly likened to buffoons. The antics of people like Elon Musk have clearly not helped the cause, says political scientist Michał Zabdyr-Jamróz.

On gender

Menstruation: the world of tech opens a new cycle

Lucie Ronfaut | La Déferlante, Mediapart | 30 September (FR, Paywall)  

"If you use a menstruation monitoring app, delete it now." Flo, Clue, Glow, Natural Cycles: there are plenty of such apps, all proudly claiming to work for women's empowerment. But their success raises ethical questions. In the United States in particular, some of them stand accused of endangering women, following the repeal of the Roe v. Wade ruling and the new doubts over the right to abortion. The independent French investigative outlet Mediapart, in partnership with the feminist magazine La Déferlante, takes a closer look at this "femtech" and its potential implications.

Coming in: sexual politics and EU accession in serbia

Laura Luciani | LSE Review of books | June 2023 | EN

Coming In: Sexual Politics and EU Accession in Serbia (Manchester University Press. 2023), is by Koen Slootmaeckers, a British sociologist and political scientist. The book, reviewed by Laura Luciani, looks at the introduction of LGBTIQ+ rights as part of Serbia's EU accession process – and the resistance that the change has provoked. Such "forced Europeanisation" may simply create rights that are rejected at the local level.

Muslim feminists, the coming revolution 

Françoise Feugas | Orient XXI | 31 July | FR, ES

Journalist Françoise Feugas reviews the latest book by Malika Hamidi, La révolution des féminismes musulmans. Elaboration théorique et agir féministe, 2004 à 2014 (Peter Lang publisher, 2023). Hamidi, a French sociologist of Algerian origin who lives in Belgium, was previously the author of Un Féminisme musulman, et pourquoi pas? (Editions de l'Aube, 2017). Muslim women find themselves needing to assert themselves both within their own community and in the wider European public arena, navigating often tense polemics over the veil or other clothing. This new research aims to give them a voice. "We want to live our religion without having to suffer domination, in society as well as in the Muslim community," says one young woman. "Our growing involvement in organised feminism as Muslim women should make it clear that we do not need to separate ourselves from our religious identity in order to be accepted as feminists," says another.

Victoria’s Secret: a brand’s feminist pinkwashing condemned by #MeToo

Alba Correa | El Orden Mundial | 26 September | ES (paywall)

This company, once dominant in the lingerie market, is fighting a sales slump caused by a tarnished image in the post-#MeToo era. Alba Correa reports on how Victoria's Secret is trying to become more inclusive.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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