China crisis: Macrons under fire in France over cost of new plates
With some of their crockery dating back to the time of President René Coty in the 1950s, France’s first couple badly needed a dinner service that “corresponded better to the present day”, the Élysée let it be known.
So Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron ordered a new set of 900 dinner plates and 300 side plates, designed by the artist Evariste Richer, from the famous Manufacture de Sèvres, suppliers of fine porcelain to the presidential palace since 1848.
Inevitably, there is now a bit of row over the cost. According to the Journal du Dimanche, the official price tag for the new service is €50,000 (£44,000). The satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné, however, makes it more like €500,000.
Macron’s critics have been quick to highlight the discrepancy, accusing the president of extravagance at a time of national belt-tightening due to his far-reaching programme of economic change.
The revelation also came, unfortunately, after his head of communications, Sibeth Ndiaye, posted a video of Macron talking animatedly about the “crazy amounts of cash” France spent on welfare without making any great difference.
“We plough a crazy amount of cash into minimum welfare benefits and people are still poor,” he said, reviewing a speech he was to give later in the southern city of Montpellier. “People who are born poor stay poor. We have to have something that enables people to get out of it.”
The speech subsequently made clear Macron was referring to the need for greater investment in education and reforms to a benefit system that stigmatises recipients while failing to make any real improvement to their lives.
But for a head of of state dubbed “the president of the rich”, it was not a good look. The pricey crockery, though, has an explanation. A national institution founded in the reign of Louis XV, the Manufacture de Sèvres is fully state-subsidised, and its employees are civil servants.
The official bill for the new dinner service would cover the designer’s fee, the news weekly Le Point reported; the rest would not be paid for by the Élysée, but come out of the factory’s budget, partly financed by the culture ministry.
The Canard enchaîné’s calculations were based on the catalogue prices, of €400-500 per plate, that the celebrated factory charges collectors. “You can’t compare the list price to the public and the price of state orders,” ceramics expert Romane Sarfati told the magazine.
“Some will doubtless call this order a waste of public money,” concluded Le Point, noting that most French presidents order a new service. “Others will prefer to consider it state support for a heritage industry, and a priceless investment.”