French environment minister quits over reports of lavish dinners

The French environment minister has resigned after an investigative website alleged he hosted lavish social dinners of lobster and fine wines paid for by the taxpayer when he was parliament speaker.

In a posting on his Facebook page, François de Rugy said he had been the target of a “media lynching”. He said he had handed his resignation to the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, because the effort required to fight the accusations meant that he could no longer carry out his ministerial duties peacefully.

“I would like to thank the president of the republic and the prime minister for the trust they have shown in me,” De Rugy wrote, adding he had filed a defamation complaint against the investigate website Mediapart, which broke the story.

Mediapart’s reports last week of De Rugy’s expensive, candlelit dinner parties paid for by the taxpayer were deeply damaging. They came just as President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist government sought to recover from more than eight months of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) anti-government protests sparked by economic inequality and claims that French politicians are out of touch with ordinary people.

Protesters demanding more political action to deal with the climate emergency had already begun protesting with giant plastic lobsters outside De Rugy’s political engagements.

Mediapart broke the story last week, saying that De Rugy had hosted a dozen luxury dinners between 2017 and 2018 at his parliament speaker’s official apartment in a historic building in Paris.

The website, which published a photo of a platter of giant lobsters from one dinner, said the meals were social events for De Rugy’s circle essentially organised by his wife, a journalist at the celebrity magazine Gala. On the menu were expensive shellfish, champagne and vintage wines from the French parliament wine cellar costing up to €500 (£452) a bottle.

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Mediapart said the dinners for between 10 and 30 guests were social events for which the taxpayer footed the bill.

De Rugy had swiftly denied the allegations against him, saying he had hosted dinners for work and not for pleasure. De Rugy initially intended to stay in government. Macron made his first comment on the case on Monday, saying simply that he had asked the prime minister for full clarity and preferred to take decisions based on facts not “revelations”.

But pressure was mounting for De Rugy to quit as politicians from inside Macron’s party had anonymously briefed their horror and disgust at the alleged luxury dinners, saying voters felt revulsion.

De Rugy did not deny the dinners took place but said they were linked to his work in representing the lower house of parliament as speaker and were aimed at making contact with figures from civil society.

“These were not dinners between friends. These were informal working dinners with people who have relations with a political authority,” De Rugy said, saying the Mediapart investigation was misleading and tendentious.

Mediapart published a second investigation alleging that De Rugy and his wife had carried out €63,000 of refurbishment work paid for by the taxpayer on his official residence at the environment ministry for “comfort”. The website said the costly refurbishment, which included paintwork, carpet-fitting and the construction of fitted cupboards for clothes was not essential.

De Rugy said in a written statement that the renovation work had been necessary for the apartments in a historic building, because some rooms were in poor repair. He said that overall, he had lowered costs at the ministry.

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The row is particularly damaging because De Rugy had been leading Macron’s environmental policy at a time when the government is under pressure to cut costs and waste after being accused of doing too little to combat the climate emergency. He was one of the most important ministers in government.

De Rugy is a former environmental activist who left the Green party after accusing it of drifting to the left. He joined Macron’s party during the presidential campaign in 2017.

He was appointed environment minister last year after the previous minister, Nicolas Hulot, a celebrity environmentalist and former TV presenter, announced on a radio breakfast show that he was leaving the government over its lack of action on the climate emergency.

Macron, who is keen to promote his green credentials, has struggled to find a long-term occupant for the environment ministry.

Last month, an independent report found France was falling behind on tackling the climate emergency and failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite ambitious promises.


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