Sunday

24th Jul 2016

Socialist millionaires bare all in French 'striptease'

  • Elysee palace: the French government conducts business amid imperial-era grandeur (Photo: vincent.m)

French President Francois Hollande and eight of his 37 ministers are millionaires, according to the national "striptease" of politicians' assets published on Monday (15 April).

Hollande himself declared already last year that his estate is worth around €1.2 million, most of it deriving from a house in the Alps and apartments in Cannes.

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But Monday's revelations show that foreign minister Laurent Fabius is worth €6 million (including a €2.8mn flat in Paris and €1.2mn shares in the Piasa auction house), while Michele Delauney, in charge of helping the elderly, is worth €5.2 million (most of it inherited properties, but also more than €1mn in cash in 23 separate bank accounts).

The other millionaires are: employent minister Michel Sapin (€2mn); Prime Minister Jean-marc Ayrault (€1.4mn); junior education minister George Pau-Langevin (€1.2 mn, with over €200,000 in cash), sports minister Valerie Fourneyron (€1.1mn); French overseas departments minister Victorin Lurel (€1.1mn); and health minister Marisol Touraine (€1.1mn).

The €1 million figure acquired special status in France under Hollande because he came to office promising to tax people who earn more than €1 million a year at a sky-high rate of 75 percent.

The "rich tax" later fell by the wayside.

Monday's figures also show that the average wealth of Hollande's Socialist crew is €914,000 each - compared to the French average of €230,000, putting them in the top 10 percentile of French society.

At the other end of the scale, the poorest ministers, six mostly younger men and women with junior portfolios, had less than €200,000 per head.

With the whole revelation prompted by a scandal involving a secret bank account by Hollande's former budget minister, the figures note that the new budget minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has €587,000, while the finance minister, Pierre Moscovici has a relatively modest €267,000.

Some of the declarations unearthed quirky details.

Employment minister Michel Sapin declared a small fishing boat. Industrial renewal minister Arnaud Montebourg declared a designer armchair worth €4,500, while housing minister Cecile Duflot said she has €12,000 in jewellery.

But the level of detail varied from minister to minister, prompting French daily Le Monde to promise that it will scrutinise the declarations in the coming days.

Justice minister Christiane Taubira went so far as to declare a 17-year-old bicycle worth €200. But interior minister Manuel Valls said he has less than €2,000 in the bank.

The transparency exercise is normal in many European countries, but represents a big change in France, where media tends to allow public figures more privacy.

The Le Figaro daily dubbed it "the striptease" of the French republic.

Opposition politicians called it "voyeurism."

For his part, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a senator who heads France's opposition Left Party, made fun of Hollande's project by declaring in his blog: "I'm 1.74 metres tall. I weigh 79kg. My shirt size is 41/42. My trouser size is 42, and I take a size 42 shoe. All my hair is my own and is not dyed."

But there is nothing funny for Hollande (approval rating 26%) about the potential political cost of the move.

Foreign minister Fabius felt no need to apologise for his wealth.

But Delauney (housing minister, €5.2mn) told Le Figaro: "I see the risk of misunderstanding in a time when many French people are in [financial] trouble."

Stephane Le Foll (agriculture minister, €481,000 plus a €300 bicycle) said it is "entirely consistent" to be "rich and on the left [politically]," adding that "history is full" of such people.

Hollande himself noted: "Voting on the left corresponds to the idea of ​​advancing society and sharing … I do not see why those who are rich cannot have these values."

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