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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 17:53 GMT
French chefs beef about tax
Parisian butcher slices beef
Tax cuts would bring price cuts, chefs say
Restaurateurs have stormed the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to protest against different taxes on burgers versus boeuf bourguignon.

Thirty angry demonstrators were arrested when police broke a blockade around the arch, witnesses said.

Chefs had unfurled a banner at the 165-year-old monument at the start of what they called an "unlimited" protest at the taxes on cooked food.

Police break up a demonstration by chefs at the Arc de Triomphe
Chefs say the tax for a sit-down meal is ruining business

Diners must pay 19.6% value added tax (VAT) in traditional sit-down restaurants but those buying take-away items such as burgers are charged 5.5% VAT.

French chefs believe the difference in rates is unfair and prices them out of the market, threatening their country's culinary tradition.

They also complain that the 19.6% rate is the highest applied in all the 15 countries of the European Union.

The Union for Hospitality Professions and Industries (UMIH) on Tuesday urged all its 80,000 members to join the campaign.

Each year, about 3,000 traditional restaurants file for bankruptcy because of the tax differential

Union spokeswoman Martine Prosichel

Some restaurants launched their own battle on Friday by unilaterally applying the lower rate in defiance of the finance ministry, which has branded the action illegal.

But diners will pay the same, as the union has advised restaurateurs to collect the full tax but to pay only 5.5% to the government and put the rest into trust to avoid large tax fines.

"Each year, about 3,000 traditional restaurants file for bankruptcy because of the tax differential," union spokeswoman Martine Prosichel said.

It's not up to any profession... to decide how much tax it should pay

Finance Minister Laurent Fabius

Tax cuts would also mean price cuts for consumers, she said.

But French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said the protesters were going too far.

"It's not up to any profession - no matter how well-regarded - to decide how much tax it should pay," he said.

He was still willing to discuss the matter.

He has said a reduction of the tax would cost the government roughly three billion euros ($2.7bn) a year and could run foul of European Union rules.

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