Under pressure to dismiss Labor Minister Eric Woerth, who is ensnared in a double conflict of interest (see following post), Sarkozy yesterday threw some ballast overboard by firing two second-echelon cabinet members: Secretary for Cooperation Alain Joyandet and Secretary for the Paris Region Christian Blanc.
Both men had sinned by wasting taxpayer money at a time when the government is calling for austerity and belt tightening. Joyandet had hired a private jet to attend a conference in Haiti at a cost of some $150,000, while Blanc spent $15,000 of state money on Havana cigars. Revelations about the two men's profligate ways caused a public furor and led Sarkozy to announce a draconian slash in his cabinet members' perks and operating budgets. (The austerity apparently does not apply to Sarkozy himself, who has seen his own salary increase by 150% and has recently ordered a brand new presidential plane to compete with Air Force One. Price: more than $200 million.)
Sarkozy (current approval rating: around 30%) is gambling that the dismissals and cutbacks will deflate public indignation and political opposition over the Woerth-Bettencourt scandal (see blow). But in a week in which it was revealed that Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman, received a $40 million tax rebate while Woerth was Budget Minister, it seems doubtful that Sarkozy's gambit will work.