The French government’s website was the most visited in France on Monday evening as the government made public the personal assets of the country’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his 37-member cabinet.
But if the public thought there were going to be momentous disclosures, it was in for a major disappointment. The Prime Minister admitted to having personal wealth of a little over a million Euros – what any upper middle class household could possess, while the Minister of Justice revealed that she had not one but three bicycles. The minister for small and medium industries said she was paying off a 25-year loan on her Paris flat, and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the wealthiest of the lot (his parents were successful antiquarians), said he was worth no more than 6 million Euros.
The French are extremely averse to discussing wealth and property in public and President Hollande’s decision to force disclosures on his government in a bid to introduce greater transparency and “moralise” public life was deemed a complete flop. He decided on the move in an attempt to bolster his own failing popularity and the credibility of his government after his budget minister Jerome Cahuzac repeatedly lied to parliament, denying he had avoided taxes by secretly stashing large sums of money in an illegal bank account in Switzerland.
“This is utterly grotesque. France has been a country that has scrupulously respected the private lives of people. The President’s decision has made Peeping Toms of all of us. Not necessarily a healthy development,” said banker Catherine Michel.
France is in the grip of uncertainty and a deep depression, better known as the famous “French malaise”. Public confidence in politicians is at rock bottom and “tous pourris” or “all rotten” is a phrase often sweepingly used to describe the entire political establishment. Unemployment is soaring as is the national deficit and the French have experienced a drop in purchasing power in real terms. This has made the French, never an optimistic nation at best, morose and anxious.
“These measures are not going to stop corruption. It will just mean that wealthy politicians will be suspect. You can be rich and honest. The two are not mutually exclusive,” said right wing militant Bruno Arean. “It is a well-known fact that Mr Hollande detests the rich – he has said so publicly on television. We are going to start poor but mediocre people into politics if this continues.”
Jean-Luc Melenchon the opposition left wing politician described President Hollande’s move as “a trap for the silly” into which the country had conveniently fallen.
For the French this appears to be a political earthquake. However, apart from tiny Slovenia, France is the only country inEurope where a disclosure of assets was not obligatory.