Presidential hunt culled in Nicolas Sarkozy spending cuts
Times must be hard when the French presidency decides that it can no longer compete for "grandeur" and "gloire" with a long-ago-deposed French monarchy.
As part of a drive to slash government expenses, President Nicolas Sarkozy has abolished the "presidential hunt", a throwback to royal times in which foreign and domestic VIPs wine, dine and slaughter animals at the French taxpayers' expense. Mr Sarkozy failed to mention, however, that it was he who had recently revived the lavish hunt parties at a château on the Loire. They had been abolished, as too grandiose and too monarchical, by President Jacques Chirac a decade ago.
In a long, occasionally sanctimonious, open letter to his own Prime Minister, François Fillon, Mr Sarkozy has ordered a 10 per cent cut in the cost of national administration over the next three years. At a time of record budget deficits and economic crisis, such savings were a "moral imperative", the President said.
In future, ministers must, where possible, take the train not the plane. They must pay taxes on their state-provided flats. They must move into smaller offices and use less paper.
Thousands of high-ranking officials must give up free accommodation and government cars altogether. Any minister or official found to be charging private luxuries to the public purse will be "punished". The spending cuts follow a series of embarrassing revelations about the systematic misuse of state funds at a time when France is running a record budget deficit (8 per cent of GDP) and the government wants to increase the state retirement age.
A junior minister, Christian Blanc, was reported to have used taxpayers' money to buy €12,000 (£9,700) worth of cigars. The minister for overseas development spent €116,500 on a private jet. President Sarkozy wrote: "Those who represent the public interest cannot be exonerated from the efforts demanded of the nation. They have a special responsibility... to make irreproachable use of public money."
Critics were quick to point out, however, that the cuts would barely apply to Mr Sarkozy himself, who has steeply increased the cost of running the Elysée Palace in the past three years. The annual 14 July garden party has already been abolished. The "presidential hunts" – which Mr Sarkozy never attended – will be abandoned.
However, the President of the Republic gave no indication that he intended to surrender any of his three state-funded homes: the Elysée Palace, his weekend retreat at La Lanterne in Versailles; or the Fort Bragançon holiday retreat on the Mediterranean coast. He actually lives in none of them. He spends most nights, while in Paris, at his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's apartment in a gated community in the 16th arrondissement.
Mr Sarkozy's letter also mentioned that the state would sell two ageing aircraft used for presidential flights. It failed to mention that these aircraft were obsolete because the President had last year insisted on ordering a larger and more modern Falcon 7X at €50m, to rival President Barack Obama's Airforce One. As a result, the letter calling for "vigorous reductions" in state expenses generated criticism from opposition politicians and bitter off-the-record complaints from ministers and their officials. "There is an unfortunate, chiding tone in the letter," one senior official said. "If the Elysée Palace wants to cut the cost of government, it could start within its own walls."
The cost of running the presidential office has more than tripled from €30m to €114m since Mr Sarkozy took office in 2007. Nonetheless, the President's own share in his "moral" crusade to cut the French state's generosity to itself appears modest. He has ordered that 10,000 government cars and 7,000 official apartments should be gradually withdrawn but this will mostly apply to high-ranking ministerial and regional officials.