French PM Valls under fire over trip to Champions League final

  • AFP, Paris
  • Updated: Jun 10, 2015 04:42 IST

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls came under fire on Tuesday for taking a government jet to watch the Champions League final over the weekend in Berlin accompanied by his two sons.

Opposition politicians demanded that Valls apologise and reimburse the cost of the trip to Berlin.

Born in Barcelona in 1962, the Socialist French prime minister is a huge fan of Barca, which won Europe's most prestigious club competition against Italy's Juventus 3-1 on Saturday.

He defended himself from accusations of profligacy for taking a Falcon jet to the game, saying sport played "a very important role, thanks to the big international events that we are going to host in France" -- referring to the Euro 2016 championship which France will host. The role of a prime minister was to "to support these big events for France", he added by way of explanation.

President Francois Hollande had already taken up the premier's defence on Monday, saying Valls was on an official trip to meet officials of European football body Uefa. Hollande said Valls had "matters to discuss" with Uefa around the hosting of the European championship as well as the corruption scandal engulfing Fifa.

"The goal was not to go and support Barca, the goal was to represent France," state secretary for sports Thierry Braillard insisted. An Uefa spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that Valls was invited to Berlin by Uefa President Michel Platini to "talk about Euro 2016". As for the presence of his children on the plane, Valls' team argued that they in no way added to the bill, saying there were free seats onboard the jet.

"The children's presence in the plane adds nothing to the cost of the flight," a source in the prime minister's office said. But the affair was grist to the opposition mill nonetheless, with leftists and conservatives alike using it to paint the Socialist as a big spender, out of touch with the crisis-hit citizenry.

"So we learn that two of his children were on the trip to Berlin... the least Valls can do is pay it back," wrote opposition lawmaker Thierry Mariani of the Republicans party in a tweet.

European lawmaker, Rachida Dati, a former justice minister under ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, also jumped into the fray. "The reality is that the Paris-Berlin family flight took off. But employment, still has not!," she tweeted.

The Socialist Party has been hit by a number of corruption and spending scandals since taking power in 2012. A former budget minister was forced to quit after being found to have stashed millions of euros in a Swiss account and a senior presidential advisor had to step aside after being accused of conflict of interest and overspending, including spending a small fortune to keep his shoes shined.

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