Slush fund? France reports on ‘reserve’ cash

A report released on Friday showed French lawmakers spent thousands in tax payer money last year on things like fishing and baton twirling clubs. The revelations come from a first ever accounting of a unique French parliamentary power.

Slush fund? France reports on 'reserve' cash
French lawmakers revealed on Friday how the spend €90 million per year in tax money. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

For decades members of both chambers of French parliament have had at their disposal a sizeable pile of money that, with a minimum of hassle, they can hand out to organizations or towns of their choosing (including their own) each year.

The parliamentary reserve, at its called, was €90 million last year for the National Assembly, which on average came out to €130,000 per MP depending on his or her seniority. They spent €81.6 million of it in 2013.

Yet until a new report came out on Friday that accounted for each euro, there had never been a public explanation of how the money was being spent, French magazine Challenges reported. Yet the parliamentary reserve was first established as a practice in the Assembly in 1958.

According to the National Assembly website "These subsidies, offered by MPs, help finance investment in local projects…and also support the activities carried out associations."

In fact, many French institutions do benefit from the cash. For example, France’s Conseil d’Etat, the government’s top legal advisor got €250,000 from the president of the Assembly, who in addition to his €520,000 slice of the reserve last year and wielded €5.5 on behalf of the assembly. There was also much money put towards new gymnasiums or schools. 

But is all the money really being used how the rules intended? Here The Local looks at some of the strange, funny and potentially problematic recipients of the cash.

  • Deputy Laurent Wauquiez of conservative UMP party, gave a €1,000 subsidy to a car modification club (Raucoulestuning). He handed the same amount to a baton twirling club.
  • UMP Deputy Eric Ciotti, an apparent fan of the French lawn game pétanque,  gave out €11,000 to six clubs who specialize in the game.
  • Deputy Claude Bartolone, a socialist and assembly president, gave €100,000, on behalf of the assembly, to the Danielle Mitterrand Foundation. The human rights group was founded by the wife of former socialist president François Mitterrand.
  • Deputy Gilbert Collard, a member of far right party National Front, gave €40,000 to an organization that, according to media reports, is run by someone who worked with his electoral campaign. 
  • UMP Deputy Jacques Myard gave €1,000 to a fishing association called "L'épuisette du Vésinet" or the Net of Vésinet, which is a small northern France town.

  • Deputy François Sauvadet of the Nouveau Centre party gave €107,000 to Vitteaux, the town he represents. The sum amounts to about €100 per resident of the tiny east France village.

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Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

The French government has capped electricity prices rises at four percent - but as with many French rules, there are certain exceptions.

Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

Question: I read in the media that electricity prices in France are capped at four percent, but I just got a letter from EDF telling me that my bill is going up by almost 20 percent – is this a mistake?

The French government’s bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield), froze gas prices at 2021 levels and capped electricity price hikes to four percent – it remain in place until at least the end of 2022.

However, there are some customers who will see increases to their bills of more than that – here’s why: 

The regulated tariff rate

The French government involvement in price-setting doesn’t just happen during periods of energy crisis, normally regulated tariff prices are updated twice a year: usually on February 1st and August 1st.

Typically, this value is calculated by the CRE (commission de régulation de l’énergie) and it is based on several different factors, which are explained on this government website. These tariffs proposed by the CRE are then subject to approval by the ministers in charge of energy and the economy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

These affect the state-owned Engie (formerly Gaz de France), the mostly state-owned EDF and some local distribution companies. Around 70 percent of people in France get their electricity from EDF but other suppliers do exist in the market.

These alternative suppliers, like Direct-Énergie, Total Spring or Antargaz, are free to charge more – but don’t usually charge much above the EDF rates for obvious commercial reasons.

Basic rate

The government-set limit in price rises refers only to the basic rate (option base) for electricity.

This plan represents over 80 percent of the 32 million households connected to the electricity grid in France. So, there is a good chance you might be subscribed to this without even realising it. 

If you are on the basic tariff rate, your bill will not increase by more than four percent this year.

Other tariff options

However, other options for electricity bills do exist, including off-peak rates, green deals and fixed energy prices for a certain period.

Typically people who sign up for these will have been paying less for their electricity in the preceding months than those on the base rate.

However, there are certain special deals that are not covered by the four percent cap, and some users will find that their deal period has come to an end, they are then shifted onto the base rate – which is likely to represent a price increase for them of more than four percent.

It’s little consolation when faced with rising bills, but you will likely have been paying significantly less than customers who have been in the base rate for the past few years.

READ MORE: French government to continue energy price freeze until at least 2023

Kilowatt price

Because most electricity price plans are bafflingly complicated, the easiest way to compare is to look at the price per kilowatt-hour.

Your electricity bill consists of a fixed part, the monthly subscription (abonnement) and the variable part, which depends on the quantity of electricity consumed (in euro per kilowatt-hour, kWh). The latter part is what is concerned by the tariff shield of four percent.

Here is an example of what that might look like:

The mid-August base rate price per kilowatt-hour is €0.1740/ kWh, so if you’re with EDF they cannot charge you more than this rate.

Other EDF plans charge significantly less than that – for example the Vert Electrique Weekend deal has been charging €0.1080/kWh on weekends and €0.1434/kWh on weekdays. 

Bill rises

With the tariff shield, the average resident customer on the base rate will see a €38 rise on their bill this year, while professional customers will see an average of €60 rise. 

Without the tariff shield, electricity prices per residential (non-business) customer would likely have increased an average of €330 a year, according to the CRE.