Scandals, the favourite weapon of political assassins
The champagne and lobster lifestyle of a former senior minister has caused all kinds of problems for President Emmanuel Macron.
Critics say François de Rugy, who was forced to resign in mid-July, personified the hypocrisy of an arrogant administration.
Mr de Rugy had championed Mr Macron’s new legislation on probity and transparency, yet hosted lavish dinners at his official residence when he was President of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament.
Bottles of wine costing more than €500 each were served, along with fresh seafood silver platters better associated with Michelin-starred restaurants on the Champs-Elysées.
Mr de Rugy and his ambitious wife, glossy magazine journalist Severine Servat-De Rugy, were also accused of wasting taxpayers’ money on refurbishments at the minister’s official residence – including creating a new €15,000 dressing room.
Among the state-sponsored acquisitions were a hairdryer coated in gold leaf that forced Mr de Rugy into denying that his wife was a modern Marie Antoinette, the 18th-century Queen of France whose excesses led to her execution during the Revolution that started in 1789.
Such details certainly shocked those who dislike ostentatious displays of wealth, especially when they are state-sponsored.
President Macron came to power two years ago pledging to cut public spending, and to clean up a notoriously sleazy political establishment.
But is any of this, really, in the least bit surprising?
France remains proud of killing most of her aristocracy, but the unashamedly monarchical side of government is still firmly in place.
As any journalist who has worked in Paris for a few years will tell you, political institutions, including the National Assembly and its tied properties, are bursting with gilt décor, baroque art, flunkies, and the very best in Gallic cuisine.
When Charles de Gaulle created the Fifth Republic in 1958, he made the President one of the most powerful executives in the world.
The incumbent is immune from prosecution while in office, and enjoys all the trappings of the super-rich, from multiple homes across France, to private jets and limousines.
Senior political lieutenants share in the largesse, with plenty of properties and first-class travel options made available to them, along with sumptuous dining facilities.
Fiddling even more easy cash out of the system is commonplace, but – as with Mr de Rugy – cases of somebody getting caught are so unusual they become major news events.
More than that, they often amount to political assassinations, rather than simple auditing episodes.
The most spectacular example of a full-blown hit job in recent history saw former prime minister François Fillon and his British wife, Penelope, implicated in a fake jobs scandal. It erupted in January 2017, while Mr Fillon was leading the polls as favourite to become the new President of France that year.
Instead, the Fillons were publicly humiliated for allegedly swindling the public out of hundreds of thousands of euros over almost a decade. They deny any wrongdoing but face trial early next year, and possible prison sentences.
Emmanuel Macron took advantage of the resulting implosion of Les Républicains to become president himself. Numerous enquiries, including a TV documentary entitled “Who Killed François Fillon?” have tried to get to the bottom of the scandal, but nobody really knows who actually pulled the trigger on Mr Fillon.
All that is certain is that the loss of Mr de Rugy – who held the key job of Environment Minister at the time of his demise – will show that the Macron hierarchy is just as vulnerable as anyone else.
Enjoying fine wine and seafood is pretty normal in France, as is politicians splashing taxpayers’ cash, but if somebody wants to use such luxurious consumption to take you out of public life, they can – and will.
Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist who specialises in French politics and the Arab world. Her articles feature in the French national press as well as internationally. She is a regular columnist in The Connexion