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Why 'sacked' French ministers deserve no pity

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Why 'sacked' French ministers deserve no pity
Ministers who lost out in the reshuffle have plenty to fall back on, unlike France's thousands of unemployed laments Dan Macguill. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP
15:34 CEST+02:00
In the latest of our Reader Rants series writer Dan MacGuill takes a swipe at the French ministers who, after losing out in the recent cabinet reshuffle, have wallowed in a bit of self-pity, despite having other well-paid, taxpayer-funded jobs to fall back on.

Spare a thought for Hollande’s orphans. Since the French cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, who has stopped to consider the plight of those 17 ministers and junior ministers who were cast into the political wilderness in the process?

Let’s see how they’re holding up.

“Political life is rough,” Thierry Repentin told Le Parisien on April 12th, reflecting on his fresh sacking as junior minister for European affairs. Stoically downplaying his ordeal as “a difficult time”, Repentin will now face the ultimate indignity for a public representative – an election.

In 2012, Thierry sacrificed his position (and taxpayer-funded €99,266 salary) as senator for Savoy, when he got promoted to cabinet. There, his day job as junior minister (Secretaire d’Etat) bagged him €113,316 a year, plus perks like free first-class rail travel, car with driver, and free flights, according to recent figures from the Journal du Net.

Now – in keeping with parliamentary rules – he’ll slide back into the role of senator until an election in September. As Le Parisien points out, he’s likely to lose, given the electorate’s current dire opinion of the ruling Socialists. It just keeps getting worse for old Thierry.

After this probable double-defeat, he’ll face the humiliation of falling back on his job as ‘Conseiller général’ (Councillor) in the department of Savoy - a part-time gig he’s had since 1998, and for which he gets paid €25,080 a year.

Reader rants: Why do the French just not do charity?

Presumably he’ll also be able to keep his mind somewhat active by putting in a few hours a week as deputy mayor of the town of Sonnaz, a post he’s earned €7,527 a year for, since 2008.

That’s right - because of French politicians’ blatantly self-interested insistence on keeping the “cumul des mandats” (dual mandate), elected and appointed officials like Thierry Repentin can draw down multiple taxpayer-funded salaries on the national, regional and local levels of French politics.

Token limitations mean that guys like Thierry must bravely give up certain roles in order to take up others. But the practice of having placeholders (“suppléants”) effectively keeping your seat warm for you, means that a smart French politician could spend decades shifting back and forth between jobs, moving from taxpayer-subsidized apartments in Paris to their family homes, and back again.

In the midst of his orgy of self-pity in the pages of Le Parisien, Repentin wistfully described his last-minute duties, like writing letters of recommendation for his staff while they could still avail themselves of the ministerial letterhead. “We’re like a job centre,” he grimaced with irony.

A job centre. That’s a good one. He’s sardonically comparing himself, you see, to the Pôle Emploi - the national French agency dedicated to helping people find employment.

That’s funny. Especially since, in February, the Pôle Emploi counted a total of 3.34 million unemployed men and women in France - yet another record high under the leadership of President Hollande, former PM Ayrault, and the cabinet Thierry Repentin served in.

How many of those who were fired in France lately had a slightly less lucrative back-up job waiting for them, as Mr. Repentin does?

Since being removed as junior minister for the elderly, Michèle Delaunay, for her part, told the newspaper that she had withdrawn to her garden to lick her wounds; she has apparently been using a pair of shears to help her “take out her revenge” on her bushes.

SEE ALSO: Minister Delaunay stands by her dog after attack on child

Remember this: when Michèle Delaunay is finished venting her outrage on her shrubbery, she gets to return to the National Assembly, at the taxpayer’s expense. If the unthinkable ever happened, and she had to leave politics and slink away to the private sector, she is a dermatologist by training with a reported €5.4 million personal fortune she shares with her husband.

Sacked agrifood junior minister Guillaume Garot described losing his taxpayer-funded political job in the reshuffle as "harsh".

After losing his ministerial portfolio, he’ll be forced to return to his €66,180 salary (plus perks) as a member of the National Assembly.

That’s a whole lot of harshness to have to come to terms with. Good thing for him, then, that he’s able to take an impromptu break in Madrid and spend some time swimming and reading by the pool, as he told Le Parisien.

If that’s “harsh”, though, what adjective can we possibly use to describe the ordeal of the 24,000 factory workers (many of them in the agrifood sector overseen by Garot) who in just one year (2012) lost their sole, often low-paid jobs without proper warning or compensation?

Reader rants: The French can't take a gentle bashing

If age-old political game-playing among an elite group of eminently educated, hyper-connected, and often very wealthy individuals can be called a “humiliation”, what on earth do we call the penstrokes by which virtually whole French industries have been outsourced, at the cost of tens of thousands of livelihoods?

If France wants to really reform its political system, then start by ending the dual mandate. Incompetence and arrogance will only be replaced by service and dedication if wayward politicians are properly sacked, rather than rewarded with yet another cushy political gig, and a holiday in the sun.

Dan MacGuill is a freelance writer and former reporter at The Local France.

If you have something you want to get off your chest about something to do with the French or life in France, whether positive or negative, then we'd like to hear from you. Send your ideas to news@thelocal.fr. 

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