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French minister quits over luxury lobster and fine wine dinners

The French minister at the centre of a scandal over the dinners he hosted with giant lobsters and €500-a-bottle wines has quit blaming a "media lynching".

French minister quits over luxury lobster and fine wine dinners
Francois de Rugy, pictured wit his wife Sevrine, has resigned. Photo: AFP

Environment minister François de Rugy had been under fire over claims that the publicly-funded luxury dinners he hosted had little connection to his political work.

Only at the weekend he had vowed to resist pressure to quit and instead stay on as minister.

But on Tuesday he resigned blaming a “media lynching” that prevented him from now doing his job.

In a lengthy statement on his Facebook page, de Rugy wrote: “The attacks and media lynching have driven me today to take the necessary step – which everyone will understand.

“The attacks and media lynching targeting my family force me to take the necessary step back,” said de Rugy, who also held the post of minister of state which made him the number two in government after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

“The effort required to defend my name means that I am not able to serenely and efficiently carry out my mission. I presented my resignation to the prime minister this morning,” he added.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye then announced that the resignation had been accepted.

The investigative news site Mediapart website had said the minister in Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche party had hosted a dozen extravagant dinners from 2017-2018 when he the head of the French parliament.

READ ALSO Has former French president Nicolas Sarkozy really got taller since he left politics?


François de Rugy announced his resignation on his Facebook page

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

The dinners reportedly included champagne, giant lobsters and a €500 bottle of wine that had been signed by Prince Charles.

The pressure further mounted when he was accused of renting a subsidised council flat despite being on a higher salary than would be allowed, but on Friday he defiantly vowed that he would not resign.

He told French TV station BFMTV he has “never paid more than €30 for a bottle of wine”, doesn't eat lobster because of a “shellfish allergy”, and avoids champagne, which “gives him a headache”.

But on Tuesday Mediapart's chief Edwy Plenel said the resignation had been triggered by new elements of website's investigation that accused de Rugy, a member of France's green group EELV, of spending his MP's allowance on paying his political party fees – something forbidden in the rules.

“We are doing our work in the public interest,” said Plenel after the minister's resignation. Rugy plans to sue the investigative site Mediapart for defamation accusing it of a desire “to harm, smear and destroy.”

The scandal had been embarrassing for French president Macron who since his election had been labelled a “president for the rich” and was accused of being out of touch with the concerns of ordinary French 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.

He became ecology minister after the resignation of the high-profile figure Nicolas Hulot who quit the government after becoming frustrated with the government's lack of progress on green reforms.

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POLITICS

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

Foreigners living in France could get the right to vote in certain elections if a newly-created bill passes through parliament.

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

The newly elected president of the National Assembly’s law commission calmly lobbed a 40-year-old electoral hand-grenade into the political discourse of the summer – and then went on holiday.

Sacha Houlié, MP for the Vienne and a member of Macron’s LREM party, filed a bill on Monday that would, if passed, allow non-EU citizens living in France to vote and stand for office in local elections. 

Under current electoral legislation, only French citizens can vote in presidential and parliamentary elections; EU citizens in France can vote in local and European elections; and non-EU citizens have no voting rights in France whatsoever. 

EU citizens can also stand for office in local elections, but are barred from becoming mayor or running for a seat in the Assembly.

Since Brexit, Britons in France have not been allowed to vote in local or  local office, any many Brits who were on their local councils had to resign because they were no longer EU citizens.

Many countries limit voting for their citizens who are out of the country, so non-EU citizens living in France often do not have the right to vote in any country.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and the far-right Rassemblement National wasted little time criticising Houlié’s bill.

Darminin’s entourage said that the minister was “firmly opposed” to the idea.

The far-right party went further. “We have crossed the limits of indecency and incomprehension of what the French are asking for,” Rassemblement national spokesperson Laurent Jacobelli told Franceinfo, echoing the sentiment of the party’s interim president Jordan Bardella, who insisted the passing of the bill would mark the, “final dispossession of the French from their country”.

Houlié said: “The right to vote for European Union nationals in local elections already exists in France. No one is surprised that a Spaniard or a Bulgarian can vote in municipal elections. But it has surprised many people that the British can no longer do it since Brexit.”

Given the current shape of the Parliament in France, it seems unlikely that the latest bill will pass. But it is far from the first time it has been on the table.

François Mitterrand had pledged during his presidential campaign in 1981 to ensure “the right to vote in municipal elections after five years of presence on French territory.”

But, in the face of opposition from the right, he backed down from this particular promise. 

In October 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, tried to move forward with an electoral plan that would have allowed non-EU citizens certain voting rights – but was blocked by his own UMP party.

François Hollande re-launched the proposal during his 2012 campaign, before quietly letting it go in the face of opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.

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