NEWS20 July 2009

Auditor raises questions over Sarkozy’s €400,000 polling bill

Europe Government

FRANCE— France’s national audit office has raised questions over €400,000 spent by President Nicolas Sarkozy last year on opinion polls whose results also appeared in the press.

Auditor Phillipe Séguin’s report follows the first audit of the presidential palace’s accounts in the 200-year history of the French Republic. In a 19-page letter to the President, Séguin turns particular attention to spending on research.

He raises questions about the signing of a €1.5m contract with a research agency (not named in the letter) in June 2007. The single-page contract was drawn up without following procurement rules, he writes, and effectively gave the agency complete control over how activities were carried out and subcontracted, with no way for the palace to monitor how its money was being spent.

Dozens of invoices were generated under the contract in 2008, including nearly €400,000 spent on an omnibus survey conducted by Paris-based Opinion Way, which also carries out polling for daily paper Le Figaro and cable news channel LCI.

Séguin writes: “In spite of the €392,288 billed by the agency to the presidency for participation in these studies, which are conducted fortnightly, a comparison of the results published in the press and those sent to the presidency shows no apparent difference. One could, therefore, question the utility of this spending.”

According to Séguin, 15 of the 35 Opinion Way studies invoiced to the palace in 2008 were also the subject of press reports, and in almost all cases the information received by the palace was “identical” to that published in the media.

But Opinion Way said in a statement that the results published by Le Figaro and LCI come from proprietary surveys and are separate from the results of the omnibus survey of which the palace was a client.

However, socialist member of parliament Delphine Batho said the report revealed a conspiracy between politicians, pollsters and the media, and demanded that the president release a list of the 15 surveys whose results Séguin claims also appeared in the press.

The audit of the presidency’s €110m budget has also resulted in Sarkozy paying back around €14,000 in personal expenses, which he claims he did not realise had been billed to the palace. Overall, Séguin praised the openness of Sarkozy – who chose to put the palace’s accounts under the jurisdiction of the audit office when he became president – and acknowledged that this was a year of transition. The last head of state to be subject to such an audit was Louis XVI.


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