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POLITICS

France bans MPs from hiring family members

French politicians will no longer be able to hand out jobs to family members, after a parliamentary vote.

France bans MPs from hiring family members
Francois Fillon and wife Penelope. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Employing 'immediate family members' will be punishable by fines of €45,000 and up to three years in prison under the new law.

That means no hiring of spouses, children, or parents.

And politicians who wish to employ more distant family members, such as cousins or a spouse's non-immediate family, for example, will be under obligation to report this. That's also the case for 'cross-employment', or politicians hiring the family members of another MP or minister.

France's National Assembly voted through the measure, first proposed in June, with a show of hands on Thursday morning. 

The new law will apply both to ministers and MPs, roughly one in six of whom currently employs a family member. The measures form a key part of President Emmanuel Macron's flagship bill “for the moralization of public life” and is one of the new government's first laws to be approved.

All parliamentary groups had been in favour of applying the ban to government ministers, however there was some opposition to its extension to members of parliament.

Julien Aubert, of the Republicains party, compared the bill to dealing with swine flu. “One pig is sick, so you slaughter the whole flock,” he said, according to Le Figaro.

But Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet warned MPs that “any retreat in this matter would be very badly perceived”.

The issue of politicians hiring family members was brought into the spotlight by the 'fake jobs' scandal widely seen as the downfall of presidential candidate Francois Fillon.

In late January, French media revealed that Fillon's wife Penelope had received nearly €900,000 for a job as his assistant – despite very little evidence of her doing any such work in a scandal that became known as “Penelope gate”. 

He had also paid two of his children for jobs related to his government role, and the inquiry into the scandal is still underway.

Fillon's support plummeted following the revelations, eventually being knocked out in the first round of the elections after previously being widely seen as the favourite to win.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, who was elected President in the May election, promised during his own campaign that he would try to end the practice.

The Macron administration is planning a separate crackdown on how MPs use their allocated budgets.

Each member of parliament currently receives an annual €130,000 budget on top of their pay, and the new government says there are not enough checks in place as to how these funds are used.

POLITICS

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

The French military has banned Russian nationals from visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval fortress, tourist attraction and military site on the edge of Paris, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials told AFP.

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

Once the residence of French kings and among Europe’s best-preserved monuments of its kind, the castle is for the most part open to the public, including for tours, concerts, theatre plays and other events.

But although best-known as a tourist attraction it is also technically a military site, housing part of the French armed forces’ historical archives, to which access is restricted.

The mounted Garde republicaine – a division of the French military – are also partially based at the chateaux.

It is therefore covered by a French ban on Russian nationals entering army territory that was issued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Each year some 150,000 people visit the chateau, paying €9.50 per adult admission.

But on July 28th, two Russian women were refused access.

“A guard at the metal detector asked to see my passport,” said one of the women, 31, who works as a journalist and has been in France for five months, having left Russia “because of the war”.

On inspecting the document, the guard informed her she couldn’t pass, the woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another guard also denied her entry and gave as the reason “because you are Russian”, she said, adding she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry confirmed late Monday that it had, indeed, “restricted access to military installations to Russian nationals” because of the invasion.

But after media coverage and social media comment, the ministry contacted AFP on Tuesday to say that the guards had in fact “indiscriminately applied a rule established in February concerning all military installations”.

“This rule cannot be applied in the same way for strategic sites and for sites accessible to the public, such as museums,” a spokesman said.

The ministry said security staff would now be informed of the distinction “to avoid any further incidents of this kind”.

Russian journalists could, however, apply for an exemption, a ministry official added.

The majority of France’s most popular tourist sites have no military function and would not be affected by the ban. 

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, France has taken in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, government figures show.

About 73,500 Russian immigrants lived in France in 2021, according to the national statistics office Insee.

There has been debate within the European Union about whether further limits should be placed on Russians visiting the bloc for tourism or personal reasons.

Russia’s neighbour Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas  for Russians but also emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter.

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