Sarkozy cracks down on ministers' perks
French President Nicolas Sarkozy Monday moved to slash perks for members of the government, after a series of rows about ministers' spending at a time when budget cuts are hitting the public.
Having cancelled his presidential summer garden party, Sarkozy ordered Prime Minister Francois Fillon to crack down on officials' parties, planes and cars.
Sarkozy ordered Fillon in a letter to "vigorously reduce" perks and "systematically tackle spending that is unjustified and excessive in the current context.... That is our duty to taxpayers."
He threatened to punish state officials who use public money for personal expenses.
The announcement followed scandals including revelations that Christian Blanc, a junior minister for development of the Paris region, spent 12,000 euros (14,700 dollars) of taxpayers' money on cigars.
In March, development minister Alain Joyandet was criticised for spending 116,500 euros to hire a private plane to take him to Martinique for an emergency meeting on the earthquake in Haiti.
"At a time when our compatriots are hit by the crisis, the state must more than ever set an example," Sarkozy wrote in Monday's letter.
"The search for savings in the administration is necessary to restore our public finances. It is also a moral imperative," he added.
"Those who represent the general interest cannot be exempted from the effort demanded of the nation. They have a particular responsibility which comes with their mission -- to be unreproachable in their use of public funds."
Fillon's government has vowed to slash public spending by at least 100 billion euros (124 billion dollars) over three years.
Mass street protests took place last week against the government's plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, part of efforts to bring down France's soaring public deficit.
The new leader of the French Communist Party dismissed Sarkozy's cost-cutting order as a "smoke screen".
"They are sending out a big smoke screen to make us swallow public spending cuts which are going to be massive and affect common mortals," hitting schools and public services, Pierre Laurent said on Europe 1 radio.
Sarkozy said he would cut 10,000 vehicles and 7,000 cars from the government fleet by 2013, encouraging officials to use trains for short-haul trips and stay in state-owned properties instead of hotels where possible.
Use of paper in government offices would be slashed by half and rented office space cut back, he added.
"I have decided to put an end to presidential hunts" Sarkozy added, saying they would be replaced with culls managed by the agriculture ministry when needed to maintain the environmental balance.
Hunts were a historical privilege of leaders which were abolished in the French revolution but later restored.
So-called "presidential hunts" of wild boar took place on state-owned land and media reports have claimed they were offered as a treat to important guests.
French prime ministers used to receive "special funds" worth millions of euros to be handed out in envelopes of cash among ministers for purposes that were not detailed publicly. This practice was stopped in 2001.
© 2010 AFP