President Emmanuel Macron carried out what was meant to be a discreet ceremony to award the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, the Légion d’Honneur at the Elysée Palace last week.
However the private event on February 16 clashed with the day that hundreds of thousands of workers protested across France over changes to pension rules and controversially raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Any discretion was blown away when the event was leaked to the French news magazine, Le Point.
Outrage from the left
Predictably, there has been outrage from the French political left, who are again repeating the mantra that Macron is the president of the rich, and not the people.
Mr Macron presented the chevalier [knight] honour, which is the first grade, in front of a small number of hand-picked VIP guests and influential business leaders. The date of February 16 was planned weeks in advance, reportedly to suit the tycoon’s diary.
The Guardian reports that it was told Bezos was designated a member of the Legion d’Honneur about 10 years ago – before Macron entered the Elysée – “so the ceremony was to hand over the ribboned medal he should have received then but had not collected.”
President Macron accused again of losing touch
The ceremony was not announced by the Elysée or put in the president’s official diary because it was considered a private occasion. Around 300 foreigners are admitted to the Légion d’honneur every year.
The revelation by Le Point has caused anger in France where Macron is coming under increasing flak and is accused of losing touch with the people.
Bezos is the world’s third-richest person, behind the Tesla chief executive Elon Musk. The top spot is held by the French billionaire Bernard Arnault, the president-director general of the luxury group LVMH, who was reported to be at the Elysée Palace for Thursday’s ceremony.
‘Sumptuous and confidential’
The event was attended by “only a few hand-picked guests”, and was “sumptuous but confidential” according to the report in Le Point. It was not announced in the regular updates which go out to the press to show the president’s engagements.
A photograph published by the conservative magazine showed Bezos in a pale suit chatting to Mr Macron. Opponents of the government’s bitterly contested changes to the country’s pension system accused Mr Macron of mocking them.
Manon Aubry, of the leftwing La France Insoumise (LFI), tweeted: “Context: record CAC40 [French stock exchange] profits, inflation, massive demonstrations against the reform of pensions ... Macron’s bright idea: decorate the boss of Amazon Jeff Bezos … with the Légion d’honneur.”
Contexte : profits records du CAC40, inflation, mobilisation massive contre la réforme des retraites...— Manon Aubry (@ManonAubryFr) February 23, 2023
Idée lumineuse de Macron : décorer le patron d'Amazon, Jeff Bezos, 4e homme le plus riche du monde, de la légion d'honneur.
Tout. Va. Bien. https://t.co/jweRWRZaZZ
Alma Dufour, another LFI MP, pointed out that Jeff Bezos stands accused of having "allowed massive VAT fraud" and of having "contributed to the destruction of 85,000 jobs in commerce in France."
Read more: 500,000 shopkeepers in France launch anti-Amazon campaign
Read more: France's love-hate relationship with Amazon
"Again and again, everything for the rich, nothing for the people!" mocked the Haute-Garonne MP François Piquemal of La France Insoumise.
Bastien Lachaud, LFI MP for Seine-Saint-Denis, said: "After decorating the butcher MBS [Mohammed bin Salmane] who murders journalists, Macron now decorates with the Légion d’honneur Jeff Bezos, champion of tax evasion, ransacker of jobs and nature,” he said before reminding his audience that Macron was living up to his nickname as “the president of the rich".
Après avoir décoré le boucher #MBS qui assassine des journalistes. #Macron décore maintenant de la légion d'honneur Jeff Bezos, champion de l'évasion fiscale, saccageur d'emplois et de la nature.— Bastien Lachaud (@LachaudB) February 23, 2023
Plus que jamais le président des riches ! pic.twitter.com/jnUBaufHlP
Billion dollar green pledge
Last November the Bezos Earth Fund - set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos - pledged $1billion by 2030 to help protect carbon reserves and biodiversity, according to a statement put out at the time by the French president’s office.
The statement was issued just before Mr Macron held a first series of talks at the COP27 summit in Egypt. His office added that the presidents of Gabon and Rwanda had also expressed an interest at the COP27 summit in taking steps to protect forests and natural carbon reserves.
Forbes rich list
Bezos's philanthropic organisation so far has pledged 30% of its $10-billion fund toward nature conservation, restoration and food-systems transformation. The fund is seeking a coalition with African and European countries around this year's U.N. climate summit to add weight to land restoration efforts.
The Forbes rich list has French tycoon Bernard Arnault in poll position with a fortune of $210billion. Second is Tesla boss Elon Musk with $194.1billion and third is Jeff Bezos with $119billion.
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