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Will insurance pay up for Notre-Dame fire?

As more than a billion euros in donations have poured in to help rebuild Notre-Dame some readers have queried why the French state does not simply make an insurance claim – the likely reason is simple: the cathedral was not insured.

document published by an official government agency, La Documentation Française, confirms there is a general rule that ‘the state is its own insurer’, meaning that rather than pay out each year to insure all its buildings, it simply foots the bill itself when damage occurs.

Connexion asked the Culture Ministry, responsible for the building, for confirmation that this applied to Notre-Dame, but a spokesman said they are not currently commenting on the insurance of the building and will update us in due course. However Le Parisien reports that a government source confirmed to them the cathedral was not insured.

The general rule dates back to an internal Finance Ministry document from 1889, when it was decided that the state, which had previously taken out private fire insurance policies, would no longer do so.

The old document noted that “in view of the great number of its properties… the annual figure that the treasury would have to pay in premiums, if it was to insure all its buildings, would be disproportionate with the amounts it would be able to claim”.

In the same way as most old churches belong to local councils, cathedrals belong to the national French state, in rules worked out between the French Revolution and laws on church state separation at the start of the 20th century. The state also maintains the buildings, which continue to be used for Catholic ceremonies.

Commentators note that the state may be able to claim against the insurance of the company that was undertaking restoration of the spire, in the event that any fault should be found on its part. 

However is thought that such a claim on the insurance of a small business would have a ceiling of a few million euros (ten at the most), whereas experts think the Notre-Dame repairs will be well over a billion despite the fact the main walls were saved from the fire.

The state reportedly sometimes takes out policies for certain valuables in buildings, but it is unclear if this applied to any items damaged inside Notre-Dame. The diocese of Paris is also understood to have a policy which covered certain contents, but it is said to be limited in scope.

With President Macron announcing aims to rebuild in under five years and most of the bill therefore likely to go to the government, the generous donations will no doubt be very welcome...

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