AFP - Getty Images, file
French President Francois Hollande vowed to bring transparency to government. An order for his ministers to publicly declare their wealth has shown some to be worth millions, putting them out of step with the common French citizen.
Michele Delaunay, minister for Senior Citizens in the socialist government of French President Francois Hollande, on Monday revealed that her personal wealth amounted to more than $7 million, including almost $20,000 worth of jewelry, along with antique furniture and paintings worth $260,000.
Writing in a regional newspaper, Sud Ouest, she acknowledges that the full extent of her wealth "will be hard to understand for the majority of French citizens who are currently experiencing financial hardship."
Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius possesses an even greater fortune: $7.8 million, including an apartment in Paris valued at $3.5 million.
AFP - Getty Images, file
Socialist Michele Delaunay had to admit that she is worth more than $7 million as part of French President Francois Hollande's order for his government ministers to make their holdings public.
They have been forced to reveal this information on government websites by President Francois Hollande, who demanded that all ministers publish details of their personal wealth by 11 p.m. ET on Monday. This followed a scandal brought on by the actions of another wealthy member of his government.
Jerome Cahuzac, the former budget minister and thus the man responsible for clamping down on tax evasion, was forced to admit he had a secret bank account in Switzerland containing $780,000, and he is now facing charges of tax fraud. Confirmation came only after he repeatedly denied the accusation, first made by a journalist working for the investigative website Mediapart.
Such a revelation would be damaging for any government, but is particularly dangerous for Hollande, elected on a platform of transparency and integrity.
During his campaign, he promised to address the financial problems facing France with an anti-austerity program but has struggled to deliver.
Now, after just 11 months in office, his approval rating is down to 29%, according to a poll carried out by CSA for Les Echos, released on April 4. That’s a drop of 4 percentage points in just one month, and 9 points down from his February rating.
The demand for each of his government's 37 ministers to publish details of their wealth online, a strategy he calls "moralization," is a key part of his effort to regain public trust.
Some of the revelations have provoked mirth. For example, Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, also of the Green Party, has revealed that she owns two cars -- a Renault Twingo worth $1,900 and a Renault 4L, worth even less.
The minister for industrial renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, has admitted he owns an armchair designed by American Charles Eames worth almost $6,000.
But politicians on both sides have grumbled about the exercise, saying it puts what should remain private into the public domain. Claude Bartolone, a leading socialist who is not a minister and therefore exempt from the process, told Le Figaro newspaper that letting the public see such information was akin to voyeurism.
Public analysis of the information is now under way. Hollande will have to hope that the exercise does not backfire by provoking a backlash against wealthy socialists, the "gauches caviares" as they are known -- as he is unlikely to be able to afford for his approval rating to sink further.