Macron to keep ministers despite favouritism allegations

Territorial Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand
Territorial Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand RFI/Edmond Sadaka

French President Emmanuel Macron called on his ministers to show "solidarity" and "responsibility" at Wednesday's cabinet meeting in the face of accusations of misconduct against two of them. The claims have cast a shadow over his plan to introduce a clean-government bill.


Calling for cabinet solidarity and responsibility, Macron commented "Things aren't necessarily going well when the press becomes the judge", government media spokesman Christophhe Castaner said on Wednesday.

Two ministers stand accused of misconduct - Territorial Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand in relation to his managemant of a group of mutual insurance companies and European Affairs Minister Marielle de Sarnez in relation to the employment of an assistant at the European parliament.

A Harris opinion poll on Tuesday showed 70 percent of people questioned thought Ferrand should resign, while 62 percent thought de Sarnez should.

But, while saying he understood the French people's "exasperation, emotion, irritation", Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that Ferrand would stay at his post.

Ferrand hits back at critics

In an official ministry statement Tuesday Ferrand claimed that press reports of alleged favouritism when he was boss of Les Mutuelles de Bretagne created a "continuous climate of suspicion [that is] profoundly damaging for our democracy".

In response to the initial report that his partner, Sandrine Doucen, had been awarded a profitable contract while he was managing director, he pointed out that the group's current management has expressed confidence in him and that nothing illegal had been done.

In response to further revelations in Le Monde newspaper, notably that he had backed a bill favouring mutual insurance companies while both an MP and an adviser to his replacement, Joëlle Salaün, he argued that MPs should not just earn their livings from politics and asked "Should I abstain from defending a principle that is pertinent and in the general interest on the grounds that I know the subject well?"

Describing what it called the "Ferrand system", Le Monde also alleged:

  •  that the minister's former wife, Françoise Coustal, who is an artist, was commissioned to decorate bulidings run by the group, including an old people's home that received a 1.66 million-euro subsidy from a regional authority of which Ferrand was a vice-president;

  • that Doucen was awarded several contracts by Les Mutuelles de Bretagne;

  • that Ferrand employed Salaün's partner, Hervé Clabon, a Socialist Party activist and taxi driver who is now retired, as a parliamentary assistant, replacing him with his own son for four months when Clabon had to retire due to ill health.

Ferrand points out that Coustal was first employed by the group eight years after they divorced and that he failed to mention employing Clabon on his declaration of interest because he had left his employ when it was filled out.

Sarnez sues far-right MEP

European Affairs Minister Sarnez, for her part, laid a complaint against National Front (FN) MEP Sophie Montel for malicious accusation after Paris prosecutors opened an inquiry into "abuse of confidence" against her and 18 other French MEPs.

Montel, whose own party faces a fake jobs inquiry concerning 17 FN MEPs including party leader Marine Le Pen, tipped off French magistrates and the European parliament's fraud office, Olaf, that about 30 parliamentary assistants working for other parties also held elected office or worked for their parties in France.

Sarnez, a member of Justice Minister François Bayrou's Modem party, responded that her assistant had been approved by the European parliament and that proof of regular activity in Brussels had been provided.

Two other MEPs, prominent mainstream right-wingers Brice Hortefeux and Michèle Alliot-Marie, have also said they will sue Montel.

The accusations against the ministers, and a claim that a parliamentary candidate for Macron's Republic on the Move! was a slum landlady, come as Bayrou draws up a law on transparency and clean government, a key campaign promise during the presidential election campaign.

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