France's National Assembly on Tuesday approved an amendment to the government's latest finance bill that would require the U.S. government to ensure that U.S. banks and financial institutions provide the same information to France's government about accounts held by French taxpayers that French financial entities are currently providing annually to the U.S. government, as they're required to do by the U.S. law known as FATCA.
The vote, (pictured above, in a photo said to have been taken by a French lawmaker that's currently making the rounds on Twitter), was 237 in favor and 182 against, and comes a little more than a year after an earlier attempt to introduce a similar amendment failed.
It was seen as a major victory for longtime accidental American campaigner Fabien Lehagre and his fellow "accidentals," as well as for the lawmakers who've taken up the accidentals' cause in recent years. It is also thought to represent the first time that an effort to seek reciprocity with respect to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act has come this close to being passed.
The measure now goes to the Senate for a vote. However, the Senate won't vote on the amendment itself but on the finance bill to which it's now been added, according to a source. It wasn't immediately known which way the vote is likely to go.
Meanwhile, of particular gratification to Lehagre and his fellow accidental campaigners, following Tuesday's session in the National Assembly, will be the fact that the amendment specifically mentions "accidental Americans" and the "disastrous consequences" that FATCA, signed into law in 2010 as a tax evasion-prevention measure, has been having on them, and that the accidentals' plight was also cited by the lawmakers in their discussions of the measure.
"Accidental Americans" refers to individuals who are citizens of countries other than the U.S., but who are considered by the U.S. under its "jus soli" citizenship policy to be U.S. citizens. This in turn means that they're obliged to file tax returns to the U.S. government every year, because they were either born in the U.S. or have at least one parent who is American, even though they have never lived in the States, except, in some situations, briefly as babies or young children. They may also be expected to pay U.S. taxes on certain income in addition to having to file certain "information" documents, such as annual Foreign Bank Account Reports, which can involve significant penalties if not filed, or filed in error.
While this has been official U.S. policy since the 1800s, it was FATCA that suddenly shone a spotlight on Americans around the globe who until then had not been aware that they were considered to be U.S. taxpayers, particularly these "accidentals".
Lawmakers said to 'condemn'
In their coverage of the vote, such French publications as Le Figaro and Le Parisien – both of which in turn also credited AFP – described how the French lawmakers "condemned the American extraterritoriality which imposes on French citizens born in the United States the obligation to pay taxes there," as they approved, against the French government's wishes, "a symbolic amendment" that would not affect existing "international conventions".
"It is our duty to defend our citizens," the Le Figaro article quoted Olivier Marleix, a National Assembly member who co-sponsored the amendment, as saying.
"This situation is appalling for accidental Americans, who cannot resolve a situation which has been known about for many years."
In a statement on the Facebook page of the Paris-based Association des Américains Accidentels (Association of Accidental Americans, or AAA), the group's founder, Fabien Lehagre, declared yesterday's vote "a great step forward to counter the adverse effects of the extra-territorialism of the U.S. legislation, and to defend the sovereignty of France, and those 40,000 French citizens who have no ties to the United States, other than having been born there."
Lehagre flagged up his AAA post with the words "Aujourd'hui est un grand jour!"
In addition to making reference to the "disastrous consequences" FATCA has caused for "thousands of French citizens known as 'accidental Americans'," The 310-word amendment, (an English translation of which may be viewed by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the green "Next" box on the right), explains how these "Américains accidentels" are being impacted by their supposed American nationality, even though they haven't "ever resided there".
'Accidental American poster boy Boris'
The first time many accidentals (and other Americans who had been living abroad for a long time) became aware of the difficulties that they might soon encounter as a result of their having been born in the U.S., in spite of never having lived or worked there since, was when the news first broke in 2014 that London's then-mayor (and future prime minister), Boris Johnson, had been caught out by his till-then-unrealized U.S. citizenship.
The New York-born Johnson then effectively became the poster boy for what can happen to accidental Americans who don't realize they're considered to be U.S. citizens. Born in the U.S. in 1964 because his father had been a student there, he left the States for good with his parents and siblings five years later – and thus was stunned to be hit with a capital gains tax bill by the U.S., after he and his (British) wife sold a house in London that they jointly had owned for several years.
Although he initially challenged the U.S. authorities (publicly) over the tax, he eventually paid it, and, then, two years later, it emerged that he had formally renounced his U.S. citizenship.
Meanwhile, back in France, the French National Assembly was beginning to hear from Lehagre and his recently-formed association of accidentals, and assigned one of its members, Marc Le Fur, the job of looking into the situation.
Le Fur (pictured above, right, with Lehagre), soon became an outspoken advocate of the accidentals' cause, and as reported here in May, 2019, was the co-author of a report arguing that France should "unilaterally [consider] giving up FATCA reporting."
Even before this, in July, 2018, the European Parliament voted by a resounding 470 votes to 43, with 26 abstentions, to approve a resolution supporting the cause of the EU's accidental Americans, which had been brought before the body at a meeting in Strasbourg by Sweden's Cecilia Wikstrom, on behalf of the body's petitions committee.
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- Lehagre's Assn of Accidental Americans requests U.S. district court 'expedite' its renunciation fee challenge case