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Second home protesters in Pays Basque attack minister's home

The activists demanded a meeting with the French economy minister over current taxation rules on second homes and short-term rental properties in the area

Houses in Pays Basque

Protesters say that more than 21% of property in the Pays Basque is made up of second-homes Pic: Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

Activists in the Pays Basque have attacked the second home of the French economy minister as part of protests against second homes in the region.

Protesters tore tiles from the roof and held a banner on the porch roof to call for the removal of the tax limit (taxe d’habitation) on secondary homes, which is currently capped at 60%.

The activists were from the Basque Country political movement EH Bai. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has a family home in Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle in the region.

On its website, EH Bai stated: “Faced with the silence of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques prefect since mid-February, our political movement wanted to question the highest circles of the French state.

“This surtax has no dissuasive effect on the owners of second homes since it represents a few hundred euros per year at the most.”

The movement states that there are at least 41,000 secondary homes in the north of Pays Basque, representing more than 21% of homes. It is also calling for the ‘zone under tension’ area to be extended. So far, 24 communes in the area have this status.

The group is calling for a meeting with Mr Le Maire to reach an agreement over the situation. Mr Le Maire is reportedly working on the issue as part of the budget for 2023, which has prompted EH Bai to mount their protest now.

Protesters said they would refuse to leave the minister’s house until they had achieved their goal of arranging an appointment. During a telephone exchange with Mr Le Maire and the activists, they set up a meeting for later that week.

The protesters then left the site. Mr Le Maire has decided not to file a complaint against them, even though he has condemned their methods, he told Le Parisien.

Representatives from EH Bai also met local officials including the prefect of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques on Wednesday this week (July 13).

A member of the group, Nikolas Blain, told local newspaper Sud-Ouest: “While the next finance law is being drafted, we have had confirmation that this is the right time to make our demands.

“We have been encouraged to form a working group including our parliamentarians, in order to work on these proposals and bring them to Paris.”

This is not the first time activists have protested against second homes in the Basque Country. In 2021, estate agent offices were graffitied with the words ‘The Basque Country is not for sale'. 

According to local figures, the increase in short-term rentals is also causing extra tension (having risen by 130% between 2016 and 2020 according to urban planning agency Audap).

A rule that would require short-term rental owners to produce an equivalent property, of the same square meterage and in the same commune, for long-term let, was due to come into force on June 1.  However, this was rejected on July 9, and postponed until March 1, 2023.

The Pays Basque is not the only region seeing protests against second homes. Other demonstrations have been seen in Brittany and Rennes, among others.

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