Just five weeks into office, French President Emmanuel Macron lost his fourth minister on Wednesday, marking the third official from the centrist MoDem party who has quit over a funding scandal. The 14,000-member party helped bring Macron into power last month.
Minister of Justice and MoDem leader Francois Bayrou decided to step down in order to fight allegations that his group misused European Parliament money to pay party assistants based in France. During a press conference, he claimed he was the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign, but decided to stand down to prevent “the president and the government being exposed to controversy” and “a campaign of lies,” The Guardian reported.
Minister of the Armed Services and MoDem party member Sylvie Goulard announced Tuesday that she was leaving her post to focus on combating the corruption claims. European Affairs Minister Marielle de Sarnez, also a member of MoDem, stepped down for similar reasons.
And two days ago, Richard Ferrand, a junior minister from Macron's En Marche party, also left his government post — his resignation was made at the president's request, after Ferrand became embroiled in a conflict of interest scandal involving his wife.
As a result, Macron replaced Goulard with little-known railway executive Florence Parly, Bayrou with constitutional lawyer Nicole Belloubet and de Sarnez with Nathalie Loiseau, director of France’s National School of Administration. The civil service school is where many of France’s political elite have studied, including Macron.
The claims against MoDem, which first emerged in the Canard Enchaine investigative newspaper, are now the subject of a preliminary investigation.
Last Sunday’s legislative elections handed En Marche a 308-seat majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, meaning that Macron's party does not need MoDem's support to push legislation through parliament.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party who lost to Macron in last month's presidential election, commented that he used Bayrou to gain more votes in the presidential campaign and now “tossed him” because he does not need his party's support in Parliament anymore.
Her own party has been investigated over similar accusations of misusing European Parliament funds to pay for staff in France.
During the presidential campaign, Macron's conservative rival Francois Fillon was also engulfed in a separate scandal over accusations that he hired his wife and children as his parliamentary assistants with little evidence that they did any such work.