The president of France’s parliament is being raked over the coals for hiring his wife as an assistant at the same time that he is seeking to reduce expenses incurred by MPs.
Claude Bartolone, chief of the National Assembly and member of the ruling Socialist Party, unveiled a 10 percent reduction in MP’s expenses, while imposing a five-tear budget freeze on parliament.
Seeking to close a €30 billion gap in public finances, the Paris government will introduce a new austerity budget that hopes to cut the state’s debt to the EU-mandated 3 percent of GDP by next year. Among other measures, MPs will face greater scrutiny over their expenses (which have been cut, along with perks like first-class train travel).
MPs will now have to scrape by on a monthly net salary of €5,189 and monthly expenses of €5,800. In addition, they receive annual payments of €109,000 for their staffs.
The new administration of Francois Hollande has already slashed the salaries of the president and ministers by 30 percent.
“Transparency is a serious matter and should be treated seriously," Bartolone said, according to the Le Monde newspaper, adding he hoped to find "the right balance between transparency and independence.”
However, French media reported that Bartolone hired his spouse Veronique as his assistant in charge of women's rights.
Bartolone has denied any impropriety in the affair, telling reporters: "I didn't take on my wife, I married my assistant. She has been my partner since 1998.”
According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper of Britain, Bartolone’s private secretary, Jean-Luc Porcedo, backed his boss.
"If bakers can employ their wives to help them out, then why not MPs?"
Opposition figures predictably blasted Bartolone and what they perceive as hypocrisy and conflict of interest.
Thierry Solere, a lawmaker for the right-wing UMP party, tweeted: “Funny day to announce the hiring of Mrs. Bartolone the office of President of the National Assembly. In politics, one must be surrounded by people you trust," according to Le Figaro.
In a sarcastic reference to 3 million jobless Frenchmen and women, conservative MP Lionnel Luca wrote on his Twitter account: "Good news on the unemployment front: Mrs. Bartolone is joining her president hubby in his cabinet!"
Another right-wing politician, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said: "It is troubling coming on the very day we discuss the use of funds earmarked for MPs. It's hardly ideal."
French observers fear that the government may become embroiled in the kind of expense scandal that engulfed the British parliament three years ago.
"Knowing that some colleagues use part of this allowance for expenses other than professional ones, there will one day be a big scandal, like in Great Britain," said Charles de Courson, a transparency activist.
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