Move To Abolish French TV License Faces Rocky Ride In French Senate

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The French government’s controversial move to abolish the country’s 89-year-old TV license fee is due to be voted on by France’s upper house this week.

The ending of the fee, currently set at 138 euros ($141) a year, is included in wider budget rectification legislation tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

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The move to abolish the fee follows an election promise by President Emmanuel Macron in March during his presidential campaign and is seen as setting a precedent for other European territories such as the UK, where the license fee is also under review.

The minority government of Macron’s Renaissance party led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne managed to push the TV license fee measure through the lower house on July 23, with 170 votes to 57, thanks to the support of centre-right opposition party Les Republicains (LR).

The bill is expected to face stronger opposition from the 348 members of the centre-right-dominated upper house, which was due to address the matter in a public debate on Monday (August 1) afternoon.

The upper house is rushing to vote on the entire package of measures included in the budget rectification legislation by August 6, ahead of the parliamentary summer recess running August 7-24.

There are concerns about the plans to abolish the TV license from all political quarters of the upper house for different reasons.

The fee, which generates most of the funding for France Télévisions, Radio France, Franco-German broadcaster Arte and international TV channels France 24 and RFI, raised some $3.1b in 2020 to which the government added an additional $666m.

A key sticking point in the Senate is the government’s plan to replace the lost income by dipping into revenues raised by value-added tax (VAT).  These revenues came in at €92b in 2021, the lion’s share of which went into social security payments.

This plan has raised objections on both sides of the upper house, resulting in an amendment being tabled last week calling for this funding mechanism to be limited to December 31, 2024.

Regardless of this amendment, another sticking point with the VAT funding plan is a public spending law that comes into effect in 2025, which will require a link between a tax and the mission being financed by it.

Beyond the technicalities of how the funding will be replaced, left-wing senators says the abolishment of the license will threaten the independence of state broadcasters if it means they have to renegotiate budgets with the governments of the day every two to three years.

Left-wing senator David Assouline has said that the move contravenes article 34 of the French constitution, in which media independence is enshrined.

“If we do not win the parliamentary battle, we will appeal to the Constitutional Court on the basis of Article 34,” Assouline told French media during Senate deliberation on the measure.

Critics of the move to end the fee as a cost-of-living measure say the move will have a negligible impact on the finances of the 23 million households that currently pay the TV license, noting that lower-income households were already not subject to the payment.

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