Shun freebies, cut costs, French ministers told

Reuters News
Posted: May 19, 2012 1:58 AM
Shun freebies, cut costs, French ministers told

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande tried to distance himself from his conservative predecessor's showbusiness style on Thursday, ordering his ministers to cut transport costs, refuse freebie holidays, and surrender expensive gifts.

The guidelines were contained in a code of ethics presented to the first meeting of his 34-member left-wing cabinet that he unveiled after an election victory that made him France's first Socialist president in nearly two decades.

A statement on the ethics code said ministers needed to lead by example and avoid all conflicts of interest.

They should use trains rather than planes where a trip was no longer than three hours, scrupulously respect the rules of the road, and declare financial interests for publication in addition to refusing holiday offers and expensive gifts, it said. Any gift worth more than 150 euros would have to be surrendered.

Hollande's conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was obliged to crack down on ministers' travel last year after a scandal erupted over a private holiday a foreign affairs minister took in Tunisia in the early days of an uprising that marked the beginning of a series of popular uprisings across the Arab world.

Many French voters also came to associate Sarkozy with a high-rolling lifestyle due to his wife's background as a model, his wealthy businessmen friends, his luxury holidays and his penchant for expensive watches.

Tasked with reviving a sickly economy at a time when many French voters are seeing their incomes squeezed, Hollande is keen to project a more modest image. For his inauguration, he deliberately chose a Citroen hybrid car, handing the struggling company some welcome television exposure.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Osborn)