French clubs plan 'historic' strike over 75% tax plan

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Evian forward Modou Sougou (L) vies with Guingamp midfielder Moustapha Diallo (C) during their French Liggue 1 match at the city stadium in Annecy, eastern France on on October 19, 2013

French football clubs will go out on strike for the first time in more than 40 years next month in protest at government plans to tax top earners 75 percent, the clubs announced on Thursday.

The first lockdown in the professional French game since 1972 is scheduled for the last weekend of November after a unanimous vote against Socialist President Francois Hollande's controversial supertax initiative.

The president of the French professional clubs union (UCPF), Jean-Pierre Louvel, said: "We are involved in a historic protest and have a real determination to save football by having a weekend without games at the end of November."

Clubs in France's first and second division -- Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 -- were "confirming their firm opposition to the 75 percent tax proposal" on annual incomes over one million euros ($1.3 million) by staging a walk-out between November 29 and December 2, he added.

Under the proposals, companies rather than players would be liable to pay the high tax rate on the part of their employees' salaries that exceed one million euros.

Louvel said clubs, concerned that their ability to attract high-earning top players from abroad to play in France will be hit, would open their doors to fans to explain to supporters why they needed to take such drastic measures.

But whether they will win the backing of fans is debatable, with public perception of footballers currently near rock bottom.

A recent poll suggested that 82 percent of those questioned had a poor image of the national team, three years after Les Bleus' calamitous World Cup campaign in South Africa, which was marred by a players' strike against the manager and an early exit from the competition.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office said in a statement that football clubs "were businesses like any other", while the French Communist Party immediately labelled the club's strike plans as "outrageous lobbying".

Talks between the clubs and Hollande are scheduled to take place next week.

Thursday's announcement follows last Friday's parliamentary vote to include the 75 percent tax rate in next year's budget.

The bill was a major plank of Holland's 2012 presidential election manifesto and previously made headlines when actor Gerard Depardieu decided to take up residency in Belgium in protest.

The proposal will now go before the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, before returning to the lower chamber National Assembly for a final reading.

According to Ligue 1 teams, the new bill, if implemented next year, would leave them with a 44 million euro tax bill.

That forecast is based on the highest salaries of around 120 players from 14 clubs in the French top flight, according to statistics seen by AFP.

Jean-Michel Aulas, president of multiple former French champions Lyon, described the new tax as "unfair".

"It's an anti-labour tax. This proposal is retroactive, we're being taken hostage," said Aulas, whose club's fixture with Paris Saint-Germain will be one of the games lost on the strike weekend.

Louvel criticised Ayrault's claim that football clubs would be treated like other businesses.

"Look at the drama which football is experiencing, we are the only country which taxes companies that are losing money," he said.

"I want our protest to change politics concerning this situation."

According to official French football figures, the combined loss of France's first and second divisions in 2011-2012 amounted to 108 million euros.

Louvel, who is also president of division two side Le Havre, warned that unless next week's top level discussions bore fruit, the strike would go ahead.

"If there is no agreement, by agreement I want to hear words that translate into actions - with the President of the Republic we will continue the actions in whatever way."

Bruno Roux, the chairman of the Socialist Party group in the country's National Assembly, said the clubs were displaying "the reflexes of spoilt children."

"At the same time they are coming to see us and ask us to help them upgrade the stadiums for Euro 2016," he said.

"This strike is absolutely absurd and completely incomprehensible when you see what the clubs ask of the state and local authorities.

"They need to drop this very bad idea which will be deeply unpopular with the French people."