French defence minister resigns over inquiry into misuse of funds

Sylvie Goulard, who is second minister to go in 24 hours, steps down over allegations her MoDem party misused European funds.

France’s newly appointed defence minister Sylvie Goulard has resigned from government after a magistrate launched a preliminary investigation into allegations her party misused European parliament funds.

Goulard, who only took up her post in Emmanuel Macron’s administration a month ago, stepped down on Tuesday. She is the second high-profile minister to go in less than 24 hours.

President Macron has pledged to clean up French politics and public life after a series of scandals that have damaged voter confidence in their elected representatives. A “moralisation bill” that bans politicians from employing family members and obliging them to declare their personal interests when in office is expected to be one of his government’s first pieces of legislation.

“The president of the republic is working to restore confidence in public action, reform France and relaunch Europe,” Goulard said in a statement on Tuesday. “This work should take precedence over any personal consideration,” she added.

“Defence is a demanding portfolio. The honour of our armies, of the men and women who serve and put their lives in danger should not be mixed up in controversies that have nothing to do with them.”

On Monday, Richard Ferrand, minister for territorial cohsion and the general secretary of Macron’s fledgling political party La République en Marche (La REM – Republic on the Move) resigned after he was put under preliminary investigation for nepotism and financial impropriety.

The departure of Ferrand, a close friend of Macron, was sold as a promotion; he will lead the REM parliamentary group.

Goulard, a member of La REM’s allies in government, the centrist MoDem party, added: “On the assumption that the preliminary inquiry against MoDem is aimed at verifying the conditions under which my assistants at the European parliament were employed, I want to be in a position to demonstrate freely my good faith and all the work that I have done.”

Since becoming France’s youngest president at 39, after defeating the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, last month, Macron, a former investment banker, has seen his party win a convincing majority of 350 seats in the 577-seat Assemblée national, the lower house of parliament, in Sunday’s second-round legislative vote. This has given him a free hand to push through his economically liberal, business-friendly, reformist programme that seeks to loosen French labour laws and shake up welfare and pensions provision in France.

The French government resigned after the parliamentary vote – as is required. New appointments are expected on Wednesday in what has been described as a “technical reshuffle”.

Macron is expected to confirm Édouard Philippe as his prime minister. On Tuesday morning, Philippe told BFM TV he wanted a “balanced government”, with “people who come from the right – as in my case, from the left, from the centre” and who would not be “partisan”.

He said he would also be handpicking ministers from civil society as well as those elected to parliament and wanted an equal number of men and women.

MoDem MEPs are the subject of a preliminary investigation by Paris anti-corruption police for allegations of “breach of trust and concealment of this offence”. The inquiry centres on whether assistants employed to work at the European parliament were used for MoDem party business.

Members of the FN, including Le Pen, are also under preliminary investigation over claims they misused EU funds for party work.

A total of 19 French MEPs are under preliminary investigation. MoDem said in a statement that it had “respected all the rules and employer regulations”.

Ferrand, who is accused of favouring his partner when looking to hire an office for a Brittany-based health “mutuelle” of which he was president, has also denied any wrongdoing, favouritism or conflict of interest.