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French Politicians Implicated in Expenses Scandal

The United Kingdom is not the only country to find their politicians embroiled in a major expenses scandal.

French government ministers are accustomed to leading an opulent lifestyle at the taxpayer's expense, with salaries of €14,000 a month, free accommodation, palatial offices, and an expense account that often seems to know no limits.

Even from casual observance, it is clear to see they are treated with an obsequiousness by the ranks of aides around them that would make even Robespierre blush with embarrassment. One reason perhaps why they sometimes feel they can get away with so much!

So it has been with interest over the past few weeks and months to see that France has also suffered its fair share of the exposure of Government Ministers who have been found putting their nose too far into the trough.

Last month the former Housing Minister Christine Boutin was found to be picking up €9,500 a month for heading up a government commission into the social consequences of globalisation.

In addition to the fees, the Catholic centre party politician was also pocketing €6000 a month in her parliamentary pension, as well as €2000 local salary as a mayor.

The Prime Minister later issued an instruction that no-one was to be entitled to receive their parliamentary pension plus a government salary, but not before the Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and the Minister of Health and Sports Roselyne Bachelot amongst others were found be claiming both their Ministerial salaries and their parliamentary pension.

Then there was the case of the Sports Minister Rama Yade who a few weeks ago made a fierce attack on the cost of the hotel rooms being occupied by the French football team during the World Cup in South Africa, each of which was costing €589 a night.

So it must have been with some embarrassment that she woke up one morning to find the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné carrying a story that during a recent visit to South Africa she had a hotel room booked at €667 a night, together with rooms costing €389 a night for each of three of her entourage. In total her three day visit is said to have cost €45,000.

The secretary of state in charge of a project for 'Grand Paris', Christian Blanc, also found himself in trouble for charging €12,000 for the purchase of Havana cigars. He was initially only obliged to pay back €3500, on the basis that the remaining level of expenditure on cigars was considered to be 'reasonable'! However, with continuing red faces within his UMP party, Prime Minister Francis Fillon later announced that he had repaid the sum in full.

A secretary of state for foreign affairs, Alain Joyandet, was also accused last month of breaching planning regulations at his home in Saint-Tropez. Once again, according to Le Canard Enchaîné, the minister had obtained a planning consent for the extension to his villa that was far larger than that permitted by local planning regulations.

The architect he engaged to supervise the project was a member of his UMP political party, as was the mayor who granted the planning consent. It seems that in order to get around the regulations, the size of his existing house was overstated on the planning application.

This is not the first time that Alain Joyandet has been caught out acting in an inappropriate manner, for last year he was found to have hired a private jet for a ministerial visit to Martinique at a cost of €116,500!

There have also been other ministers in recent months who have been caught out taking advantage of the perks of the job, such as the left wing secretary of state for urban areas Fadela Amara, who was found to have let out her official residence to a member of her family. The industry minister Christian Estrosi was also found guilty of the same offence. Prior to her dismissal from the government Rachida Dati the then Minister of the Justice was also caught up in numerous allegations of lavish living, including 20 chauffeur driven limousines that were parked outside her offices for the use of herself, aides and senior civil servants.

Or the former Miniser of the Economy Hervé Gaymard who was found to be occupying a 600m2 palatial apartment in the centre of Paris, for a rental of €14,000 a month, paid for entirely by the state. The minister was obliged to quit his job and move out of the flat, which he tried to justify on the basis that he had five children.

Et tu, Brute?

But it is not only lowly Ministers who are being caught out. Last year the President Sarkozy was obliged to pay back €14,000 in private expenditure that he had ‘inadvertently’ charged to the public account.

One of the first things President Sarkozy did when he took office in 2007 was to award himself a pay increase of 140%, from €7,700 per month to €19,000.

The President has also been more widely criticised for the substantial increase in costs of running the Elysée Palace since he took office, as well as the cost of some spectacular events that the Palace has organised.

Thus, last year the President arranged for his friend the singing legend Johnny Halliday to perform at free concert for the public concert to celebrate the 14 July fête nationale.

The cost of the event is reported to have been over €1 million, of which the singer received €500,000 for a three hour concert. Johnny Halliday is of Belgium nationality and lives in Switzerland.

The French national audit office, the Cour des Comptes, has also criticised the lack of competition with regard to the provision of services at the Presidential Palace, citing by way of example a garden party held in July 2008, which went to the usual caterer at a cost €300,000, when another supplier had offered to do the same for €186,000.

Neither has President Sarkozy let the state of the French economy stand in his way of ordering a new larger luxuriously equipped new airbus at a cost of €176 million.

The socialist MP René Dosière has made it a personal crusade to expose the costs of the Elysée Palace, and has consistently railed against the lack of transparency about running costs, as figures are rarely provided in a disaggregated manner.

Local French politicians also benefit from the political gravy train, notably through holding a number of different elected positions.

Thus, there are those who are mayors of their local commune, as well as being a senator, and possibly also mayor of the local inter-communal body, the communauté de communes. By holding multiple positions politicians in the larger towns and cities can earn €10,000 to €20,000 a month.

All of this is not going down very well with a French public that has just had to listen to the government announce a massive three year programme of austerity, which will involve a huge reduction in public expenditure, as well as tax increases. The age of retirement is also to rise to 62 years.

Within the last few days the President has been forced to announce that some of the perks in cars, accommodation and staffing that are currently enjoyed by his Ministers are to be reduced. The 14th July Elysée garden party has also been cancelled for this year.

However, President Sarkozy has rejected any reduction in his remuneration, or that of his Ministers, and the proposals by the President are already being openly questioned by some Ministers, notably the Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde.

This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 01/07/2010

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