Wandering leisurely through one French museum after another—priceless, right? Exactly, as of January 1, when the French culture ministry opens 14 of the country's museums to visitors free of charge. The pilot program, a campaign plank for Nicolas Sarkozy, is being greeted skeptically as columnists debate whether the policy draws broader audiences or just gives foreign tourists carte blanche.
The British government made almost all public museums free in 2001, which spiked attendance 30 million over five years. France will begin by scrapping fees for three Paris museums and offering free nights for young people at others. Yet at Paris' Louvre, two-thirds of museum visitors are foreigners, and some wonder whether France should be subsidizing so many who can afford it.