French PM ‘regrets’ jetting kids to Champions League final
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Following a public outcry, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday said he would reimburse the state after taking his children along on a government trip to Berlin, where they attended the Champions League final on June 6.
Speaking to reporters on a trip to the French overseas department of Réunion, Valls reiterated that his travel last week to the German capital was for official government business but expressed regret over having allowed his children to tag along.
"Since this was an official trip, I used the means available to a prime minister," said Valls, 52.
"But I am of course sensitive to the reaction of the French people and I have to behave in a completely rigorous way. If the chance came up again, I wouldn't do it again," he said.
Valls said that to allay any further doubts, he would reimburse the state for part of the trip to the tune of €2,500 ($2,800). Valls’s office later explained that this amount was calculated based on what the average fare would have been for his two kids to take a commercial flight.
But the prime minister also insisted that taking his two sons on the government jet did not cost taxpayers "a single euro more".
His trip to Berlin sparked indignation in France, which is struggling with an economic crisis with more than 10 percent unemployment. An opinion poll published Wednesday showed that more than three out of four French people were "shocked" by the trip, which cost up to €15,000, according to government sources.
Valls initially added fuel to the fire by citing his "passion" for football and insisting that he was entitled to moments of relaxation, given his hectic workload.
Hollande to the defence
A jubilant opposition has seized on the trip to denounce Valls as a prime minister out of touch with the daily reality of the French people.
President François Hollande leapt to Valls’s defence on Monday, explaining that the prime minister was actually on an official trip to meet with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to discuss the upcoming Euro 2016 tournament, which will be hosted by France.
UEFA president Michel Platini weighed in on the controversy on Wednesday, confirming that he had invited Valls to discuss the Euro 2016 and the corruption allegations engulfing FIFA.
Valls, who was born in northeastern Spain and is an avowed fan of football club Barcelona, flew to Berlin on a government plane and saw his team take on Italy’s Juventus in the final of the European club championship.
The French prime minister’s plane departed from the central French city of Poitiers, where he attended a Socialist Party congress the same day.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)