A video in which French President Emmanuel Macron used the phrase ‘pognon de dingue’ (crazy money) to describe the amount the country spends on social welfare, has drawn widespread criticism.
Social media and some sections of the French press erupted in outrage at the phrase, with some saying it revealed Macron’s contempt for the French welfare class.
The President said that under the current welfare system, “The poor remain poor” and that “We have to prevent poverty and give people responsibility for getting themselves out of it”.
This approach was backed up later by his Minister of Labour Muriel Pénicaud on Franceinfo. The President’s words, she said, were spoken in a “language of sincerity. Something essential, that it is better to prevent than cure”.
The video, shared on Twitter by the President’s communications director Sibeth Ndiaye, was released on the day he spoke to the congress of Mutuelle (insurance top-up) providers in Montpellier. During his long speech he bemoaned the price of dental crowns and new glasses and promised better affordability for all French people – sticking to his election campaign promise of 100% reimbursement.
On welfare, he said: “50% of those who are in the RSA still are four years later and 30% of people who are entitled to benefits do not ask for them because the system is too complex.” RSA is revenue de solidarité active, an in-work benefit.
One newspaper, Libération, said the ‘pognon de dingue’ phrase was another example of Macron’s anti-welfare stance, as previously seen in September 2017 when he called those who do not feel the need to work as ‘fainéant’ (lazy).
Meanwhile, Patrick Apel-Muller of L’Humanité, saw Macron’s terminology as “a summary of a programme: tearing up the social net that has enabled nine million French people to cope with the crisis and unemployment; making them guilty of their situation.”
However, the right-leaning Le Figaro took a different tone: “Emmanuel Macron says he wants to reform for efficiency, not for financial reasons. He may be right to say so. But it is obvious that his social big bang must also be translated into sound savings,” said Gaëtan de Capèle.
Politicians from the left weighed in too, with Lille’s Parti Socialiste mayor Martine Aubry saying: “The president has a problem with the poor and it is starting to show more and more”.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France insoumise wrote on Twitter: “Mr. Macron, what costs “crazy money” is you and your ultra-rich gifts. There is a simple solution to ending poverty. It is called the sharing of wealth.”
And former socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon told Franceinfo: “I think there is a form of social racism. Behind all this, there is a deep contempt, a deep indifference to the suffering of those who are the most vulnerable.”
On a linguistic level, the phrase ‘pognon de dingue’ also raised a few eyebrows given its slangy nature. If you would like to learn more phrases relating to the tricky subject of talking money, read these Language Notes.
And if you would like to know how to talk in French about procrastination or lazyness, click here.