French ministers forced to declare assets in 'great naming and shaming'
French cabinet forced to come clean after ex-colleague lied about having a secret account
The French press called it Le Grand Deballage, taken as the Great Revelation or the Great Naming and Shaming, depending on what side of the political fence you sat.
Yesterday was deadline day for French cabinet ministers to reveal their wealth and assets in an historic exercise following the shaming of a former minister who lied about having money in a secret Swiss bank account.
The result was embarrassment for a variety of reasons. Michele Delaunay, the minister for the elderly, was concerned that "ordinary French people" might find her wealth, estimated at €5.4 million (HK$54.8 million) - including €3 million in property, a €200,000 art collection and €15,000 in jewels plus €10,000 of watches - "difficult to understand".
On a different scale, housing minister Cecile Duflot, of the Green party, had already become the subject of internet derision after admitting she owns a 1999 Renault Twingo worth €1,500. Her party colleague, former presidential candidate Eva Joly, went even better, disclosing that she owns two kayaks which are "expensive because they're made of carbon".
Arnaud Montebourg, the minister for industrial renewal and pin-up boy for the "Made in France" campaign, was forced to admit he owns a €4,500 armchair from the celebrated American designer Charles Eames.
Having no ministerial post, Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the Left Party, who had opposed the great confession, did not have to declare anything. However, he could not resist making an unofficial declaration of assets on his blog as the first of the ministers' declarations became known last week: "I'm 1.74 metres tall. I weigh 79kg. My shirt size is 41/42. My trouser size is 42, and I take a size 42 shoe. All my hair is my own and is not dyed," he wrote. He also admitted owning an apartment, a house, some savings and 12,000 books. But he added he had no horses.
Some of those wandering the corridors of power, however, were saying nothing.
Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, is not obliged to reveal his wealth and has said he will not do so.
"I have serious concerns about the respect of privacy," Bartolone said. "I'm concerned about any initiative that could feed popularism. To declare, check and punish, that's transparency. To make it public, that's voyeurism," he told Le Figaro newspaper.
Socialist President Francois Hollande gave all 38 ministers until late yesterday to declare their assets on the government's website in a push to "clean up" French politics. It is the first time such an operation has been attempted.
Hollande said he would not be publishing a list of his material assets as they "had not changed in the last year".
As is customary for French presidents, Hollande published his declaration, showing he was worth around €1.17 million, when he entered the Elysee Palace last May.
This included a house at Mougins in the Alpes Maritimes worth €800,000 and two apartments in Cannes worth €370,000 together.
The "moralisation" move follows the resignation of former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, the man in charge of rooting out tax evasion, who was found to have money hidden away in a Swiss bank account.
Cahuzac had denied the accusations eye-to-eye with Hollande and in front of the National Assembly, but eventually confessed to having the account. He is now under formal investigation for "laundering the proceeds of tax evasion".
Opposition MPs from the centre-right UMP have condemned the transparency push.
For UMP president Jean-Francois Cope, it was an attempt to name and shame. He said it was "voyeurism and hypocrisy".