Apparently, the chartered flights scandal that enmeshed four Trump cabinet secretaries - eventually leading to the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price - has spread to Paris.
As France 24 reports, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has become entangled in a controversy over his use of a chartered flight to travel from Tokyo to Paris earlier this month. Philippe chartered a private aircraft at a cost of 350,000 euros ($415,000) to bring him and a delegation back from Tokyo earlier this month when a French military transport was flying essentially the same route at roughly the same time.
Philippe on Wednesday defended his decision to charter the Airbus A340 with first-class seats, explaining that he needed to be back in Paris urgently because President Emmanuel Macron was leaving the country, and that the air force plane would’ve been “too uncomfortable” for a nighttime trip.
"It's complicated to move the prime minister around and it's expensive," Philippe told RTL radio on Wednesday. "I understand both the surprise and the questions that French people are asking themselves."
Asked by a reporter if his trip had been a mistake, Philippe angrily responded: "I take responsibility for this decision completely, I take responsibility to such an extent that I want to explain it."
Philippe was returning from the far-flung French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on December 5 along with a 60-strong delegation of officials and ministers. For the first leg of the journey from Noumea to Tokyo, they used the air force plane. But instead of continuing on to Paris, Philippe’s office hired the private A340 to complete their journey and arrived home two hours before the army plane which landed in Paris almost empty.
"We knew that there wasn't a commercial flight at that time and that we needed to get back. We knew we needed to get back for something vital which is that the president was leaving on the Wednesday morning of our return," Philippe added.
The prime minister explained that the requirements of his job made travel expensive, but that he has done everything possible to keep a lid on costs - within reason. As Philippe explained, his travel requirements as prime minister are much more intense compared with those of a private citizen.
"If you had invited Edouard Philippe, I would have come in the metro which would have cost me 1.90 or 2 euros. But... I arrived with four vehicles, motorbikes, 15 people, and a doctor and a transmitter, who stay with me because these are the resources given to a prime minister to enable him to work at all times," he added.
Philippe’s office also pointed out that the trip cost 30% less than the similar trip taken by Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2016.
Unfortunately for Philippe, his explanation did little to quiet the criticisms. Ex-minister of agriculture Stéphane Le Foll - a member of the Socialist Party - tweeted that "nothing can explain spending 350,000 euros... The Republic's planes are very good. There's no need to take private planes just so that you can sleep better."
Rien n'explique la dépense de 350 000 euros par @EPhilippePM pour un voyage ! Les avions de la République sont très bien pas besoin de prendre des avions privés pour mieux dormir! ?? #le79inter @franceinter— Stéphane Le Foll (@SLeFoll) December 20, 2017
During his campaign, President Emmanuel Macron committed to running a frugal administration should he win the office. The president inadvertently created a spending-related controversy of his own last weekend by celebrating his 40th birthday at an opulent chateau in France's Loire Valley.
While the Elysee Palace confirmed that the affair was paid for with private funds, Macron’s critics said the over-the-top party was yet another sign of how France’s youngest president is “cut off from the people.”