Wealth inventory exposes millionaires in French government
PARIS (Reuters) - France's Socialist government contains eight millionaires, a list of ministers' personal assets showed on Monday, dealing a blow to the image built by President Francois Hollande of a team enduring frugal salaries and no-frills travel.
The inventory, part of a scramble by Hollande to quieten an outcry over an ex-budget minister's undeclared Swiss bank account, exposed Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as having a 6.5 million euro ($8.50 million) fortune, excluding his art collection.
Michele Delaunay, junior minister for the elderly, declared a largely inherited fortune of 5.4 million euros, mostly in property, while Labor Minister Michel Sapin and Health Minister Marisol Touraine listed 2 million and 1.4 million respectively.
Even Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who makes a show of enjoying camping holidays, has a 1.5 million euro fortune.
Hollande's decision to make public the property and savings of all 38 ministers has been criticized as voyeuristic by opposition conservatives but several ministers showed willing by making early declarations last week.
Hollande hopes the move - unprecedented in a country where wealth is considered a private matter - will calm a media frenzy over his former budget minister that has undermined his authority as he tries to convince the world he can get public finances in order.
His tactic could backfire, however, if the public takes umbrage at so many millionaire ministers when households are suffering economic stagnation and rampant unemployment.
The average French wage is 1,600 euros ($2,100) a month and unemployment has risen steadily under Hollande to hit 10.6 percent, close to an all-time record, as growth remains stalled.
"It's a huge wealth," Delaunay admitted in an interview with regional daily Sud-Ouest. "The opposition is going to have a field day with this image of rich Socialists."
A survey by pollster Ifop, published in the weekly Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, found 63 percent of respondents felt politicians' assets should be published, but 70 percent said they would not be shocked to discover great fortunes.
The list, posted on the government's website in line with a promise by Hollande last week, also listed a junior minister of overseas territories, a junior education minister and a sports minister just scraping into the millionaires' league.
Hollande has always made a point of his disinterest in money, an attitude that won him fans in a country that has a deep distaste for visible wealth and made the shock even greater when ex-budget minister Jerome Cahuzac admitted this month that he had lied in parliament over his Swiss account.
Soon after winning power last May, Hollande slashed his own and his ministers' salaries by 30 percent and ordered members of the government to travel by train rather than plane.
He also reported assets worth 1.17 million euros when he took power, after a lifetime career in the Socialist Party.
Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, an outspoken leftist who has gone out on a limb fighting to save ailing industrial plants, came in just short of millionaire status with 920,000 euros. ($1 = 0.7643 euros)
(Editing by Alison Williams)