France guillotines Bastille Day party to save cash
PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has axed the traditional lavish Bastille Day garden party in the grounds of his Elysee Palace residence as a symbolic savings measure, parliamentary sources said on Wednesday.
The decision, to be announced officially next week with other cost cuts, comes as Paris is under pressure from the European Union and credit ratings agencies to slash its budget deficit, set to reach 8 percent of national output this year.
"For economy reasons in a period of austerity, the garden party won't take place this year," a lawmaker from the ruling UMP party said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several thousand people are usually invited to the July 14 national day reception, which follows a military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue showcasing elite units, international military cooperation and a fly-past by fighter jets.
The military parade, marking the anniversary of the 1789 storming of the Bastille, a notorious Paris prison, during the French Revolution, is expected to go ahead.
Socialist lawmaker Rene Dosiere revealed that last year's garden party cost 732,826 euros ($983,200) -- roughly 100 euros per guest --- including more than 300,000 euros for food, 43,000 euros for champagne and wine, 296,000 euros for marquees and 80,000 euros to clean up after the guests had left.
The Court of Auditors, an independent public spending watchdog, has criticized the steep rise in travel and entertainment spending under Sarkozy.
The president has steadfastly refused to use the term "austerity" or to allow ministers to do so. But Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced on June 12 that the government would have to reduce the deficit by 100 billion euros in the next three years, almost half of it by cutting public spending.
Previous presidents used the garden party to give the last big televised interview before the summer break, often setting a policy agenda for the rest of the year.
Sarkozy broke with that tradition on taking office in 2007 and has used the event to promote ethnic diversity by inviting young people from high-rise suburbs to rub shoulders with the Parisian business and political elite.
(Reporting by Emile Picy, writing by Paul Taylor)
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