French ex-minister sparks furore over perks
The French government on Thursday told an ex-minister and leader of a Christian values party to give up part of her perks following controversy over her 9,500-euro job as head of a task force.
Christine Boutin, an ultra-conservative politician who opposes abortion and gay marriage, was named in April by President Nicolas Sarkozy to lead the task force on globalisation.
She receives 9,500 euros (11,500 dollars) per month for the appointment on top of her pension benefits as a former minister and member of parliament, for a monthly total of 17,500 euros paid by the state.
The government had initially defended the big paycheck revealed in the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, but on Thursday a minister suggested that she may have to relinquish some perks during these belt-tightening times.
"I will ask Christine Boutin to consider that this controversy must not be allowed to continue and give up part of her pay that exceeds 9,500 euros," said Labour Minister Eric Woerth.
The appointment also came with a chauffeur-driven car, staff and an office in an upscale area of Paris.
National Assembly speaker Bernard Accoyer also told Boutin that she should give up her parliament pension during her mandate as a well-paid adviser to the president on globalisation.
A former housing minister who was dropped from Sarkozy's cabinet last year, Boutin leads the Christian Democrat party which is close to the president's right-wing UMP party.
The 66-year-old politician had complained last month that her "ideas" were not being taken into account and suggested she could stand in the 2012 presidential vote to give them more prominence.
Opposition Socialists charged that Boutin's appointment was "fake" and probably the result of Sarkozy's political machinations to keep allies happy.
"Is there really a task force? Or is this a salary paid to prevent a presidential candidacy that would leave the right divided?" asked Socialist deputy Pierre Moscovici.
"These are arrangements between friends. But we, members of parliament, are entitled to an explanation," he said.
Boutin said she was "outraged that my appointment was questioned in this manner and that there was a suggestion that I was bought off to keep silent."
The former minister added that while she understood that the salary "may be shocking" for some people, these payments were established under French law.
Boutin ran in the 2002 presidential election and picked up less than two percent.
© 2010 AFP