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French Socialist ministers braced for asset declaration reactions

AFP/Pierre Andrieu

French ministers were set to reveal all their assets to the public for the first time ever on Monday afternoon. It is a controversial measure in a country where many people are uncomfortable talking about their incomes.

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Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his 37 ministers had until 5.00pm to declare their assets on the official www.gouvernement.fr site.

Income and asset declarations are being adopted by a growing number of countries across the globe. The Paris-based OECD advocates them as a “tool to prevent corruption”.

The move is part of President François Hollande’s attempt to repair the damage done by the tax fraud scandal which brought down budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac.

An opinion poll on Sunday showed 63 per cent of French people backing the move, while 70 per cent said it would not affect their voting intentions.

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But Gaël Sliman of the BVA opinion polling institute in Paris told RFI that it is unlikely to reverse Hollande’s and Ayrault’s sliding popularity.

Some ministers have admitted that the declaration could prove embarrassing for them.

Minister for the Elderly Michèle Delaunay told the Sud Ouest regional paper that her 5.4 million euros of assets could be “difficult to understand for the majority of French people who are struggling tomake ends meet”.

The majority of her and her husband’s wealth came from inheritance of four houses and

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other assets from both their parents, she said, adding that the measure was “probably necessary for a true battle against tax evasion and fraud”.

Like Delaunay, Health and Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine revealed the extent of her personal wealth before the deadline, showing 1.4 million euros, mainly in the form of several properties in Paris.

The disclosure law is to be extended to all MPs and some regional leaders, giving rise to opposition from many right-wingers and some on the left.

  • The Socialist speaker of parliament, Claude Bartolone, dubbed it “voyeuristic”, while right-wing leader Jean-François Copé echoed his words calling for “control” but not “voyeurism”.
  • His rival for the leadership of the mainstream right-wing UMP, François Fillon, published details of his wealth ahead of the measure. While he was not “enthusiastic” about it, it was bound to happen, he said, claiming that 24 out of 27 European Union countries already had such a law. Fillon came under attack from the Socialists, however, for failing to declare that he had set up a consultancy this year. He said it had yet to make any money.
  • Although Sunday’s opinion poll showed 73 per cent of his supporters backing he measure, former hard-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to take the measure seriously.

He released a statement detailing his height and weight, his clothing and shoe sizes and declaring that his hair is not dyed.

Other clean government measures to be brought in include a crackdown on foreign tax havens, a special prosecutor to fight tax fraud and other corruption and an independent authority to monitor elected officials’ asset sand look into potential conflicts of interests.
 

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