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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.

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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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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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