French ministers obliged to slum it at home this summer
HIS PREDECESSOR celebrated his election win by borrowing a billionaire friend’s private yacht, then spent his first summer holiday as president in a €22,000-a-week luxury villa in New Hampshire.
But for François Hollande, the self-styled “Mr Normal” of French politics and a man whose every move can seem calculated to contrast with Nicolas Sarkozy, modesty is the watchword this summer. So with the final cabinet meeting out of the way, the French president popped down to the shop, picked up some DVDs and boarded a train to the Riviera with his partner, Valérie Trierweiler.
The first couple are spending a fortnight at the Fort de Bregançon, an 11th-century presidential retreat. Before taking his seat in the first class carriage for the journey to Hyères on the Mediterranean coast, Hollande told assembled reporters that taking the train was “an important gesture” at a time when “a lot of French people want to go on holiday but cannot do so”.
Summer holidays brought the Sarkozy government a constant flow of bad PR, so the new administration has gone out of its way to avoid the same pitfalls. Ministers have been told to take their holidays in France, and to remain available at all times in case the euro crisis worsens.
All cabinet members have signed a “morality code” to “refuse all luxury breaks offered by foreign governments”, and have agreed not to take summer breaks at the expense of the French taxpayer.
The ban on foreign hospitality was no doubt inspired by the memory of Michèle Alliot-Marie, Sarkozy’s foreign minister, who travelled on a jet owned by a billionaire close to Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali as that country’s revolution was under way.
François Fillon, Sarkozy’s prime minister, then admitted to taking a family holiday in Egypt paid for by deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s government.
But Hollande’s holiday hasn’t won universal approval. The right-wing daily Le Figaro noted that having a president travel by train involved a costly security operation for the rail operator, which had to have a police guard on every bridge that crossed the rail line. The news magazine L’Express made the issue the subject of its online poll. It asked: “Are the ministers’ holidays too normal?”