French ministers say ‘bon voyage’ to carefree vacations
Cabinet ministers of France’s barely two-month-old Socialist government are learning all about short leashes. President François Hollande’s rooky pack is out for the summer and has 15 days to enjoy the sunshine before returning to work, but was discharged on Wednesday with this warning: stay in France and stay on call.
Last week Hollande told ministers to “remain on alert during their vacations if current events should beckon you back”. There is one additional, and perhaps supreme, marching order: avoid glitzy holiday behavior like it was spoiled shellfish.
Is France's new president revealing his secret über-controlling side or taking the “Buy French” protectionist motto to extremes?
No and no.
It’s all part of Hollande’s extraordinary effort to project his self-bestowed “normalcy”: his calculated swaggerless swagger, his conspicuous inconspicuousness. The sober summer of 2012 is part of his ongoing mission to be unlike his flashy predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and avoid the mistakes of previous administrations.
Many will remember the disastrous and highly embarrassing consequences of the blistering 2003 summer heat wave in France. Around 15,000 people – mostly elderly – died after they were left home alone by neglectful families and a neglectful government. Then president Jacques Chirac was taking it easy in Canada at the time of the geriatric massacre.
Woops. His cabinet ministers were also nowhere in sight.
Sarkozy, who followed Chirac, was the target of much criticism for his yacht-setting inclinations and lifestyle, including for his choice of vacation destinations. A holiday early in his tenure on a 60-meter (196ft) yacht off the coast of Malta, which belongs to gazillionaire friend Vincent Bolloré, followed by his stay in a millionaire mansion in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, haunted Sarkozy during the rest of his time in office.
Sarkozy then limited his summer vacations to the French territory. Usually he could be found tanning at Château Faraghi, a villa belonging to his in-laws in the posh and exclusive Mediterranean promontory known as Cap Negre.
But it was Sarkozy’s foreign minister, Michelle Alliot-Marie, whose 2010 Christmas vacation flub continues to spoil ministerial summer travel plans to this day.
Alliot-Marie spent those holidays in sunny Tunisia, consorting and accepting jet rides from a friend, who unfortunately also happened to be a close friend of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. As it turns out, about the same time Alliot-Marie was knocking back eggnog in the north African country, a little revolution was getting underway there. The world would later come to know this movement as the Arab Spring revolutions.
Certainly not Alliot-Marie, who freshly arrived in Paris told parliament that the best way to deal with those Tunisian misfits was to offer Ben Ali’s police French riot-control expertise.
Exit Alliot-Marie (who has hardly been heard of since), and exit palm trees from French ministers’ futures.
So where will Hollande and his ministers rest up this summer?
Hollande was expected in the southeast Var region, and was crashing at a presidential residence favored in his time by Chirac. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was heading to southern Brittany. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius changed his initial plan to relax in the French Caribbean to relax in France’s southwest. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira is actually heading across the Atlantic, but only to her native French Guyana, which means she is technically not leaving France.
I won’t go through the whole list, but you get the picture. You, reader, probably have more exciting estival plans.
Bad news for Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece - warm destinations who are desperate for some extra tourism euros these days and would have enjoyed a little publicity from French ministerial holidays.