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France

Left proposes to take on finance in French clean-government debate

media France Unbowed MPs Jean-Luc Melenchon (R) and Alexis Corbiere (L) in parliament Reuters/Charles Platiau

Left-wingers vowed to tackle the power of finance and ruling party chiefs complained that their MPs were sleeping on the job after the first meeting of the parliamentary committee charged with preparing President Emmanuel Macron's emblematic clean-government bill.

The hard-left France Unbowed party is to propose a ban on civil servants leaving to take top management jobs in the private sector, a requirement that company board members have clean criminal record, a ban on bosses' salaries being more than 20 times those of the lowest in their company and a crackdown on tax evasion, party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon announced on Tuesday.

They also aim to "strengthen press freedom" by combatting the concentration of media ownership in a few hands, he said at a press conference on the party's stance on the proposed law to "restore confidence in public life".

Claiming that the bill was a knee-jerk reaction to the scandal that hit right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon and part of Macron's plan to reduce the number of MPs and councillors, Mélenchon warned against MPs indulging in "self-flagellation".

"The problems of democracy in France are not caused by the malfunctions of elected representatives," he said, but "by the corrupting role of money, finance being all-powerful".

The hard-left leader faces an inquiry into fake jobs accusations made by a National Front MEP, whom he intends to sue for malicious accusations.

First splits in Macron party

Some of the bill's proposals were questioned in Tuesday's committee meeting, especially plans to make MPs account for their expenses and to scrap an allowance that allows MPs to help finance local initiatives in their constituencies.

Those proposals have even opened up some of the first divisions in the ranks of Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party, with one MP Alain Tourret asking if they would be obliged to eat at MacDonalds.

He appears to have been one of the few members of the ruling party to have taken part, however, since committee chair Yaël Braun-Pivet was caught on video criticising her colleagues for their apparent lethargy during the meeting.

"We have a group that is sleeping, that doesn't know how to speak up, that is lying around doing nothing," she complained to fellow LREM member Stéphane Mazars, who is committee vice-chair.

The LREM member responsible for the bill, Paula Forteza, was "inexistent, it's as if she was in Nouméa [in the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia] on a deck chair," she went on.

Forteza represents French citizens living in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The video was posted on the National Assembly's website.

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