The revelation that Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer was in Ibiza, an island known for its partying, when he announced more Covid test rules for schools shows the government’s detachment from reality, a French political expert told The Connexion.
Mr Blanquer has been the target of mounting complaints and mockeries from French people and members of the opposition after online media Mediapart revealed his location at the time of the announcements on January 2.
The new rules - including the need for three PCR tests to be taken in the span of four days by pupils who had been in contact with a positive case - were announced through an interview published in Le Parisien, accompanied by a picture of Mr Blanquer sitting at his desk. He was in fact in Ibiza.
Several high-profile politicians asked for his resignation, including Green presidential candidate Yannick Jadot and La France Insoumise spokesperson Alexis Corbière, while others poked fun at the destination.
Photomontages, memes and edited videos of Mr Blanquer enjoying himself at parties or on the beach widely circulated on social media, most taking a template of him playing a DJ-set in front of pupils in November 2018. The term ‘Ibiza’ was trending at number one on Twitter.
Mr Blanquer yesterday (January 18) apologised before MPs and, during TF1’s ‘20 heures’ programme, France’s most watched news segment, he said he should have chosen another destination.
“If Mr Blanquer had chosen to spend the week-end in Clermont-Ferrand, he would not have been exposed to so much discontentment,” said political scientist at Sciences Po Bordeaux Pierre Sadran, comparing the quiet French town to Ibiza.
Mr Sadran’s choice of comparison piggybacks an opinion piece published in L’Obs newspaper, arguing that ‘Ibiza-gate’ was not a sufficiently serious incident to be classed as a “political scandal.”
Mr Sadran said the controversy was more the result of the presidential campaign context rather than a French cultural characteristic, adding that the increase of social media usage tended to play with people’s emotions.
“It symbolises an incredibly out-of-touch way of thinking,” presidential candidate and leader of the far-left party Lutte Ouvrière, Nathalie Arthaud, told The Connexion. She said it felt like a double-standard between what the government requires of the French people and what its members do behind closed doors.
Mrs Arthaud’s comment is in line with conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse, who was asked the same question during a TV interview, and fueled a recurrent complaint from the opposition about the disconnected world the government seems to live in.
Criticism follows a line of similar attacks, usually for politicians not knowing the price of everyday goods
Mr Blanquer is not the first to be caught up in such a controversy. Various politicians have been heavily criticised by the French people, mostly about incorrect answers to questions on the price of daily products.
This includes conservative Jean-Francois Copé saying a pain au chocolat cost 10 centimes while in reality it cost over a euro, centre-right Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet claiming a Métro ticket was €4 and former socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin handing over €7 to pay for a baguette.
Both Mr Sadran and Mrs Arthaud made a comparison with the Downing Street garden party scandal which is currently enveloping the British government, although unlike the attendees of that gathering Mr Blanquer can in no way be seen as breaking the law.
“Of course he has the right [to go to Ibiza]. But it somehow gives the impression of a bling-bling presidency,” said Mrs Arthaud.