French President Nicolas Sarkozy is standing by his beleaguered Labour Minister, Eric Woerth. In a live television interview, he insisted Woerth would continue to lead the country’s controversial pension reforms, despite being embroiled in a tax scandal involving France’s richest woman.
On Sunday the Finance Ministry’s tax inspectorate cleared Woerth of any wrongdoing.
“Eric Woerth is an honest man,” said Sarkozy. “He is a competent man. He is a man who has my full confidence and that of the prime minister.
“I thought long and hard before entrusting these very heavy responsibilities to him. Therefore he will be the minister who will defend this pension reform which is so necessary.”
The opposition wants an independent investigation into the so-called Bettencourt affair.
Sarkozy was also questioned about a possible conflict of interests given Woerth is also treasurer of the President’s UMP party.
On that account Sarkozy said he had advised Woerth to quit his party duties. “I told him I would like him to devote himself exclusively to this important pension reform and that my advice would be more that he give up the treasurer responsibility,” he said.
Given the intense media and public interest, it seems unlikely that the President’s appearance will effectively draw a line under the affair.
Despite the tax inspectorate report, a poll revealed just 28 per cent of the public trust the minister.