The Cost of Ex-Presidents

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While we complain about the cost of keeping our former ministers and political leaders in Ireland, the French people appear to have a heavier load to bear

Once they have been defeated or have simply retired from political life, the ex-presidents of the French Republic have not a single material worry to fret about for the rest of their days. Having reached the hallowed realms of the “ex-presidents”, they’re taken into the care of the State and given a lifestyle that is more than comfortable.

At No. 77, Rue de Miromesnil in a very upmarket part of Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy (pictured above with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing) is still receiving visitors with a certain degree of pomp. Fellow “ex” Tony Blair, economics guru extraordinaire René Ricol, public intellectual Alain Finkielkraut and the wrongly-convicted Florence Cassez, just released from her Mexican prison.

The former head of state has a huge 320m2 apartment at his disposal. It has 11 rooms, including one which is classified as a historical monument with paintings dating from the 19th century. The estimated rental value of this luxury pad? Almost €180,000 per year, or €15,000 per month. Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t have to worry about such things as the bill is looked after on his behalf by the French Republic.

In accordance with a “decision” signed by in 1985 by Laurent Fabius (current foreign minister who was then France’s youngest ever Prime Minister under François Mitterrand), the State provides former presidents with a functioning apartment that is “furnished” and “equipped”.

This oft-quoted document is somewhat vague: it mentions neither the limitations of expense nor the duration of the perk. Thus, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has been living for over thirty years in splendid lodgings on the very posh Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, while Jacques Chirac is also well accommodated in a sumptuous apartment on Rue de Lille.

According to Fabius’ text of 17 years ago, the former presidents also have access to a number of other “privileges”. A team of at least seven persons is in place at cost to the French taxpayer.

“In reality, the State isn’t very precise on this matter,” assures Socialist deputy René Dosière. “It doesn’t tend to nitpick over the amount and more personnel than planned could be taken on.” Dosière – a specialist in the day-to-day running costs of the State – adds that it’s “probable that Nicolas Sarkozy benefits from some extras.”

Since leaving the Elysée Palace, the latter has it his disposal a department head, a diplomatic counsellor, a communications manager, two secretaries, a steward… not forgetting, of course, his personal security for which there is a security team composed of at least two officials from the National Police, but also a mandatory car with several chauffeurs. Added to that is the surveillance of his personal home – the mansion belonging to his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy – which is taken care of by officers of the Gendarmerie. With regard to all of that, there is no closing date for the costly arrangements, despite the fact that in the majority of Western countries and in the USA, this type of police protection is terminated after ten years.

Most former heads of State enjoy an active retirement, between receptions and visits abroad. They have no need to worry about travel costs for all of that, because here again, they can rely on the generosity of the French Republic: all their travel expense are taken care of by Mother France, whether it’s SNCF trains, Air France flights, French ships and whatever you’re having yourself. And all, of course, at the highest comfort level possible. And when they’re looking for accommodation abroad, there’s no need to go online with hotels.com or to ask advice from Dominique Strauss-Kahn on the best hotels to stay in because all of France’s very comfortable embassies abroad are under obligation to accommodate the ex-presidents whenever requested to do so – the same as if they were dealing with a current president.

Sarkozy, however, does not take advantage of the foreign travel/accommodation perks. At the end of January, he went to the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, but his trip was financed entirely by the organisers of the event. Similarly, last October, when he was spending a few days in Brazil for a conference ordered by the Brazilian investment bank BTG Pactual, it was the bank itself that settled his flight and accommodation arrangements.

Perks aside, the French Republic ensures that the ex-presidents have a comfortable retirement income. According to the Law of the 3rd of April 1955, they are entitled to “an annual remuneration of an amount equal to that of a typical gross salary of a State counsellor in ordinary service.” That equates to a monthly salary of approximately €6,000 (or €72,000 a year) before taxes. There aren’t any conditions of age or number of mandates received and to the decent salary is added what the French civil service diplomatically refers to as “premiums of special circumstances” (primes de sujétions spéciales). Presumably, it’s some sort of emergency pocket money so that the ex-president will never be short a few euros when standing a round with his mates or having to tip a bell-boy. The precise amount of this is a well-kept secret.

Ex-presidents are also entitled to state pension corresponding with whatever other offices that they would have held while active and they are automatically co-opted onto the Constitutional Council for life; a posting that comes with a €12,000 monthly salary. Current president Hollande has promised to make modifications to the law governing this latter condition, cutting this part at least from the cost of former presidents.

All told, each former head of state costs the French taxpayers somewhere between €1.5 and €2 million annually. Right now, there are three of them, setting the heavily-taxed French people back by about €5 million every year.

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