Sarkozy attacked for soaring expenses

Growth in presidential spending 'seven times greater' than rest of state
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The Independent Online

Soaring French presidential expenses under Nicolas Sarkozy have come under blistering political attack – despite the absence of either duck pond or moat at the Elyseé palace.

A report by an opposition MP claims the cost of running the presidency leapt by 18 per cent last year and that the cost of day-to-day expenses, such as food, jumped by more than 50 per cent to €500,000 (£426,000) a week. Less surprisingly, the cost of official visits by the hyperactive President rose by over 26 per cent.

René Dosière, a Socialist deputy who has specialised in scrutinising presidential expenses for many years, accused President Sarkozy of breaking an electoral promise to make the traditionally secretive operation of the Elyseé Palace more transparent and less onerous for the taxpayer.

He said that the increase in Elyseé spending in 2008 was seven times greater than the overall growth of state expenditure. "Spending restrictions imposed on all other departments, from which every state employee suffers in his daily work, do not extend to the presidency," said M. Dosière.

The Elyseé Palace rejected the report as politically motivated and mischievous. It pointed out that, under previous presidents, there was no such thing as a formal budget for the Elyseé. Each president spent what he wanted without any formal checks or restraints.

Since there was no agreed budget for the presidency in 2007 (when M. Sarkozy came to power), it was meaningless to say that the spending had increased by 18.3 per cent in 2008.

The head of President Sarkozy's private office, Christian Frémont, said that the €110m budget agreed for the Elyseé in 2008 was "the first in the history of the French republic. Previously, presidencies just lived on the hoof."

Actual spending, M. Frémont said, totalled €113m – only just over the figure agreed by both houses of the French parliament.

M. Dosière's office said that its comparisons were based on actual presidential expenditure in previous years, formal budget or not. Despite M. Sarkozy's campaign promises of more transparency, the entire Elyseé budget consisted of just six lines. It was therefore impossible to say how the Sarkozy presidency had come to spend €26m last year – €500,000 a week – on "current expenses", including food, wine, receptions, mail and telephone and electricity bills.

The Socialist MP pointed out that President Sarkozy had awarded himself a 140 per cent pay rise in 2007 – his monthly salary is now €19,000 – and promised in return not to live at the state's expense, as previous presidents had done. To know whether this promise had been kept, M. Dosière said, taxpayers would have to await a more detailed examination of the Elyseé expenditure, promised by the state audit service by the end of next month.

M. Dosière saved his most scornful remarks for the presidential travel expenses, which jumped by 26.3 per cent to about €300,000 a week. "Since the President regards himself as the premier ecologist in France," he said, "it might be useful if he also published figures on the environmental cost of his travels." M. Dosière also criticised a 13.4 per cent rise in the cost of the annual Elyseé garden party.