Le free lunch is over at Nicolas Sarkozy's Elysée Palace.
For the first time since French presidents moved into the mansion off Paris's Champs Elysées in 1874, senior staff members have to pay for midday meals €8 for a three-course repast delivered by white-jacketed waiters.
It's part of an effort by the debt-laden government to rein in the president's expenses. The Elysée has produced its first budget as the 54-year-old leader trims overheads.
Sarkozy, who has sparked strikes with his plans to reduce the civil service, says he hopes to set an example for a more frugal era of government.
"From the revolution until 2008, under kings, emperors, and presidents, there was never control of the palace's expenses," says Christian Fremont, Sarkozy's top administrative aide. "We must be exemplary."
Everybody is feeling the pinch. State dinners for kings and queens will be capped at €78 a head, wine included, less than the cost at many of the city's restaurants. Journalists on Sarkozy's flights are now served a complimentary glass of Piper Heidseck champagne, which retails at €30 a bottle, instead of the €156 per bottle Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle.
"Expenses at the Elysée are falling from a royal to a prince-like level," says René Dosiere, an opposition lawmaker and author of 2007's L'Argent Caché de l'Élysée. ('The Hidden Money of the Elysée'). "It's a good start."
The Elysée's 2009 budget, provided by Fremont, is €112.7m, or 0.03% of the central government expenditures, in line with last year's spending of €112.6m. That comprises all expenses, including security, personnel, travel and catering.
Germany, the biggest EU economy, spends €76m on its federal Chancellery, not including travel expenses.
Spain's Moncloa palace in Madrid spends €69.5m a year for a portion of Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero's costs.
In Spain and Germany, executives' staffers pay for lunch at the canteen. At the White House mess, even President Barack Obama is a paying customer.
In Ireland, the Department of the Taoiseach increased its largesse last year, according to recent press reports. The department spent more than €1.1 million on expenses in 2008, up from €930,000 the previous year. Official entertainment cost the department a total of €353,378, with a further €212,638 spent on foreign air tickets and almost €200,000 going on mobile phone calls.
According to Sarkozy's 2009 budget, travel abroad will cost €15.5m; domestic travel €4.6m; communications €6m; maintenance and parties €4.7m; salaries and pensions €70m. He also has a €2.5m discretionary fund.
Sarkozy's biggest expense last year was off-budget: €280m for new planes.
He bought a second-hand Airbus A330 and ordered two Dassault Falcon 7X jets to replace 1980s'-era planes. German chancellor Angela Merkel also ordered two second-hand Airbus A340's for €370m.
In a country with a history of beheading a king and queen whose spending habits started a revolution, Sarkozy has taken steps to show his behaviour matches his rhetoric."I have to always balance the sums," Sarkozy said last month when defending limits on welfare spending. "Debts have to be paid back."
The French budget deficit will reach a record 8.3% of gross domestic product in 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Sarkozy has forced suppliers to bid for contracts. Fremont has shaved the palace's workforce by 10% since December with the president's team of advisers trimmed to 51 from more than 70, out of an Elysée payroll of 950.
The president has also handed over two castles to the ministry of culture.
Gone are the Domaine National de Marly-le-Roi, a 17th-century country retreat, and the Rambouillet Castle, southwest of Paris, where former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing hosted the first Group of Six meeting in 1975.
A 19th- century mansion near Paris, Souzy-la-Briche, may be rented out for seminars.
Though the teetotaling Sarkozy lives at the home of his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, on the edge of western Paris's Bois de Boulogne park, he's hardly scrimping.
He has budgeted for a €142 per square-metre rug for the Elysée's 1,200sq m main ballroom, replacing a 25-year-old floor covering.
"Every euro of state money has to be spent efficiently," says Didier Migaud, an opposition Socialist Party lawmaker and chairman of the National Assembly finance committee. "Time will tell if this cost-cutting is really efficient." bloomberg
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