President Emmanuel Macron’s Energy minister came under fire in France after the revelations of lavish dinners he and his wife organized when he was heading the lower chamber of the country’s Parliament.
Francois de Rugy, who was the President of the National Assembly between June 2017 and September 2018, said he “totally stands by” his decision to have organized about a dozen suppers with “guests of the civil society,” where $550 Chateau Cheval Blanc bottles of wine, giant lobsters and champagne were served, funded by public money.
Mediapart, the online investigative media, revealed the dinners in a report that includes photos and attendees accounts. The minister responded in a letter to the media, on the radio earlier in the day and in a speech at a press conference following the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
De Rugy is spearheading Macron’s policy to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear power, to boost renewable energies and to promote cleaner vehicles.
On Tuesday, he and Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne unveiled a plan to raise 180 million euros ($202 million) annually with a new tax on airline tickets on departures from France. The move is aimed at replenishing state coffers and funding commuter-transport systems.
Calls for Resignation
Several lawmakers including Socialist lawmaker and former Energy Minister Delphine Batho have called for his resignation.
De Rugy, whose dinners have been dubbed “La Vie de Chateau” by Mediapart, will remain in his position, the French government’s spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said after the weekly cabinet meeting.
“The government is very attached to questions of ethics and transparency,” Ndiaye said during the press conference. “Details provided by de Rugy obviously show these were representations and contacts with the civil society,” she said, adding that such meetings help ministers “feed their understanding of the society.”
De Rugy said that “when you are the president of the National Assembly you have a representative role,” and cited a palaeontologist, a Sciences Politiques school professor and a digital companies manager as guests of the dinners organized with his wife, a journalist in a glossy French magazine.
“I say it forcefully, there were no dinners between friends paid by the National Assembly under my watch,” he said, adding that the wines and the menu were normal at the National Assembly president’s residence, an 18th-century mansion with gilded interiors.