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French minister under fire over dinners with €500-a-bottle wines and giant lobsters

A prominent French cabinet minister was under pressure on Wednesday after a report claimed he had hosted luxury dinners while parliament speaker with allegedly little connection to his position.

French minister under fire over dinners with €500-a-bottle wines and giant lobsters
French minister Francois de Rugy and his wife Severine. Photo: AFP

The left-wing Mediapart website said Environment Minister Francois de Rugy had hosted a dozen such dinners from 2017-2018 at the French parliament speaker's official residence.

De Rugy did not deny hosting the dinners, but vigorously rejected the claim they had been purely social events not linked to his job at the National Assembly.

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“These were not dinners between friends. These were informal working dinners with people who have relations with a political authority,” de Rugy told reporters, slamming the article for being “misleading” and “tendentious”.

Mediapart alleged that the events were essentially organised by his journalist wife Severine de Rugy for their circle and included luxuries such as champagne, vintage wines costing up to €500 a bottle, and giant lobsters.

The left-wing website, which has earned a reputation for stories that irk the establishment, published images of de Rugy posing at a candlelit table and his wife with a €500 2004 Mouton-Rothschild bottle of wine.

The revelations come as the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron looks to recover from six months of anti-government protests sparked by economic inequality and claims that French leaders are out-of-touch with ordinary people.

De Rugy, who is from an aristocratic background, is a former environmental activist who joined Macron's party during his successful bid for the presidency in 2017.

Mediapart said the dinners for between 10 and 30 guests were at the expense of the state, while de Rugy's office insisted that they were linked to his work in representing the lower house of parliament.

He also received backing from government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye who said Rugy retained the support of Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

She said that it was clear his work as parliament speaker required sometimes “extremely diverse” forms of contact with different civil society members.

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FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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