France's Nicolas Sarkozy has come under fire for going ahead with plans to buy a new presidential plane for €180 million only days after cutting perks for cabinet members and sacking two for spending public money on cigars and private jets.
Instead of "paying himself a private jet worth €180 million," the French leader should use the money for reconstructing the country's dikes, Socialist politician Segolene Royal, Mr Sarkozy's opponent in the last presidential election, said on Sunday (4 July) during a charity event for the victims of floods in southern France.
"It's a concrete proposal, it would be a very strong decision during these times of crisis," she added.
Despite austerity measures imposed on his cabinet members, who can no longer enjoy champagne and foie gras during cabinet meetings, Mr Sarkozy has so far not signalled he would change his mind about the new plane, an Airbus (EADSY) A330, set to take off for the first time later this fall.
Styled after "Air Force One," the plane serving the US president, Mr Sarkozy's new plane would include an office, a meeting room, a bedroom, a large bathroom and a medical office. In addition, 60 business class seats would replace the regular 324 seats usually found on such planes.
The jet was ordered three years ago in order to replace the two ageing A319 planes currently in use for longer trips. Their sale was advertised as part of the budget-saving measures announced by Mr Sarkozy's cabinet, in a bid to stem his plunging popularity rates.
In addition, Mr Sarkozy sacked two of his junior ministers after it emerged they had spent thousands of euros of taxpayers' money on a private jet and cigars.
Development minister Alain Joyandet and Christian Blanc, a junior minister tasked with overseeing development of a 'Greater Paris' region, both tendered their resignations on Sunday (4 July), Mr Sarkozy's office said.
In March, Mr Joyandet, 56, was criticised for spending €116,500 on hiring a private plane to take him to Martinique for an emergency meeting about the earthquake in Haiti.
Mr Blanc, 68, came under fire in June after it emerged that he had spent €12,000 of taxpayers' money on Cuban cigars. The minister, a former head of Air France (AFLYY), blamed a staff member for the purchases and immediately reimbursed the state €3,500 for those he had already smoked.
As for his personal approval rating, Mr Sarkozy hit a new low of 26 percent last week, while a Viavoice poll published by left-wing daily Liberation on Monday shows that nearly two out of three voters consider their politicians to be "mostly corrupt."