The Elysée Palace got a mixed report card for its budget management this week from financial watchdog the Cour des comptes.

"/> The Elysée Palace got a mixed report card for its budget management this week from financial watchdog the Cour des comptes.

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Elysée cuts costs but told to do more

The Elysée Palace got a mixed report card for its budget management this week from financial watchdog the Cour des comptes.

Elysée cuts costs but told to do more
Pang-Hung Liu

The body was asked by President Sarkozy himself to conduct an annual report into the costs of running his office and household. Before that, the true cost of the presidency to French taxpayers was unknown.

Costs covered by the Cour’s report include everything from employees and travel to newspapers and flowers.

Overall, the Cour reported that costs have fallen slightly between 2008 and 2010, from €113.6 million to €112.2 million, but said there was still work to do in reducing expenditure and improving transparency.

The Cour’s president, Didier Migaud, stressed “the importance of the progress that’s been made.”

The most notable changes included a drop in the number of employees, from 1,031 to 904 with a corresponding drop in the salary bill from €72 million to €70 million.

The Cour was also impressed by an 18 percent fall in travel costs. This was put down to much better negotiation of hotel and car hire charges.

The biggest drop was in communication costs, falling by 126 percent from €3.3 million to €1.45 million. The president’s office was criticized strongly in earlier reports for the way it commissioned opinion polls. The report found that the studies had been carried out by a company belonging to one of the president’s advisors, Patrick Buisson, with no competitive tender.

Not everyone was convinced that the report suggested a clean bill of health. A Socialist member of parliament, Delphine Batho, said spending on opinion polls had simply moved from the Elysée Palace to the prime minister’s office at the Hôtel Matignon.

“It’s the Elysée that makes the order and Matignon that pays,” she told daily newspaper Libération. “It’s just an outsourcing of the costs, but there are still lots of opinion polls.”

The report gives details on other expenses of the president, including the €259 million purchase of an Airbus A330, known in the media as Air Sarko One. Flowers at the Elysée palace now cost €250,000 and newspapers €383,000.

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Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson