Macron’s Energy Minister Resigns Over Lavish Lobster Dinners

(Bloomberg) -- France’s energy minister resigned after revelations he ordered a costly refurbishment of his private residence and splurged on lavish dinners using tax-payers money, as Emmanuel Macron moved to avoid a repeat of last year’s drawn-out saga over a disgraced bodyguard.

Francois de Rugy, 45, said in a statement on Facebook that he presented his resignation Tuesday morning to the prime minister. He becomes the fifth senior figure to leave the French president’s team. After not even a year in the job, the reports last week that he spent $86,000 renovating his apartment and offered $550 bottles of wine, giant lobsters and champagne to guests at about a dozen suppers, stoked public pressure for him to resign.

Macron’s handling of the controversy will invite scrutiny given the precedents. He was criticized for his poor management of a scandal last year involving his bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla. Benalla was caught on video beating protesters during a May Day demonstration and the French leader, along with his staff, covered up the incident for weeks.

The president later defended Benalla before firing him in July. Macron’s approval rating plummeted around 20 points and the “Benalla affair” fueled negative sentiment about the president governing style that evolved into what become the Yellow Vests movement.

De Rugy hosted the luxury meals between 2017 and 2018 when he was heading the lower chamber of Parliament, Mediapart, an investigative news outlet, reported July 10. #Lobstergate went viral on social media, rekindling public criticism of the privileges that French senior civil servants allegedly enjoy.

Last week, de Rugy said he “totally” stood by his decision to have organized the dinners for “guests of the civil society.” The defense could not save him.

As energy minister, de Rugy spearheaded Macron’s policy to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear power, boost renewable energies and promote cleaner vehicles. He and Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne unveiled a plan to raise 180 million euros ($202 million) annually with a new tax on air tickets departing from France, a move aimed at replenishing state coffers and funding commuter-transport systems.

His replacement will need to seek new ways to raise funds after planned levies on gasoline and diesel were dropped amid violent street protests that erupted across the country at the end of last year. The minister will also be tasked with handling plans to reduce a tax break on fuel used by truck transporters, a move that will raise 140 million euros annually.

The government didn’t give any indication on the timing for the nomination of a new minister.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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