I’ve been having some fun reading about the French take on the expenses scandal. Libération ran a piece on Saturday (March 30) on whether the same sort of thing could happen in France, with the obligatory section on moats (les douves), duck houses (une ile à canards construite au milieu d’un étang) and that old favourite les films X of Jacqui Smith.
French MPs can claim for obvious stuff like photocopying, taxis, restaurant bills, website costs (which are high if you run les podcasts), and a whole host of things associated with residences in constituencies and staying in Paris. And as in the UK, French MPs can employ their spouse or child as collaborateurs. French MPs can also claim for clothes; Jean-Jacques Urvoas (Finistère) is quoted as saying “…puisque comme député, je ne peux pas me permettre de me balader dans ma circonscription habillé en souillon” an approximate translation of which is “since I’m an MP, I can’t be permitted to wander round my constituency dressed in rags”!
On the general topic of expenses, Martine Billiard (green, Paris) says: “Ce n’est pas moral mais c’est légal!”. Which is a quotation that could have come from any number of UK MPs over the last few weeks. So it would seem that the answer is yes. It could happen in France, but maybe not at the same level (due to caps on the amount someone can claim), and there’s no real way of knowing. French MPs get an envelope of around 6,000 euros to spend on their expenses, and 9,000 euros a month to employ collaborateurs, and don’t have to justify expenditure. And there’s no French equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, so even if they did have to justify their expenditure, there would be no mechanism allowing sneaky journalists to ask to see the receipts.
So what about Europe1? It would seem that the situation there is different. Libération says that this scandal could have happened 10 years ago in Europe, but not now. For a start, to claim the daily expenses allowance you have to sign the register, so you have to turn up. And you can’t employ your spouse or a family member. According to Hélène Flautre (a green MEP) “le système est généreux, mais très stricte”.
There’s no UK equivalent of Libération, but I wish there were: it’s a tabloid format daily paper, seriously left wing, with in-depth articles on politics, society, art, culture… The language is way above my level but it seems to me that even the sports pages are written thoughtfully. It still takes me about half an hour to read a one page article, dictionary in hand, but I’m sure that will improve.
1The situation with local government in France seems to be more like that in national government than European, but the intricacies of French bureaucracy are such that I simply couldn’t understand that article in enough depth to write anything about it!!