Second Macron minister comes under scrutiny after ethics claims

France's European affairs minister took legal action Tuesday after becoming the second member of new President Emmanuel Macron's inner circle to be caught up in an ethics scandal.

Second Macron minister comes under scrutiny after ethics claims
Photo: AFP

Marielle de Sarnez lodged a slander complaint against an MEP of France's National Front (FN) party who accused her and 18 other colleagues of diverting funds available for parliamentary assistants.

The accusations by Sophie Montel, made in letters to the EU fraud watchdog and Paris prosecutors, prompted the prosecutors to open an initial investigation on March 22 into possible breach of trust.

AFP reported on the letter and the probe in early April, but the MEPs were not identified at the time.

The imbroglio comes days after another minister in Macron's first cabinet, Richard Ferrand, escaped an investigation into claims that he benefited from a property deal while he ran a public health insurance fund.


The allegations have embarrassed Macron's fledgling government as it prepares a new law to clean up politics.

The Paris daily Le Parisien ran a banner headline on its cover Tuesday asking, “What about that ethics cleanup?”

De Sarnez, who joined the European Parliament in 1999, gave up her seat when she entered the government led by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on May 17.

On Monday she denied any wrongdoing with regards to a part-time parliamentary aide in her employ, saying: “Her situation was declared and verified by the European Parliament.”

A European Parliament source told AFP in Brussels that the assistant's “other activities… were seen as not posing a risk of a conflict of interest.”

The FN, meanwhile, faces accusations by the European Parliament of using funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff members for party work in France.

In February, the assembly began withholding part of its pay to the party's leader, Marine Le Pen, to recover the money it says it lost to the alleged fraud.

The fingering of de Sarnez by Montel is “clearly a counter-attack by the National Front which bent the rules of the parliament in a wholesale way”, French ecology MEP Eva Joly told AFP.

Montel, for her part, told French television: “De Sarnez can do what she likes.”

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Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”